DENHAM SPRINGS – Congressman Garret Graves on Thursday blasted the federally funded Restore Louisiana program for its sluggish award distribution for 2016 flood victims in Livingston and other parishes.
The congressman made his comments during the March 29 meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Denham Springs.
Restore Louisiana has doled out only $60 million of the $1.7 billion flood recovery package Congress approved in December 2016. The state, meanwhile, has funneled contractors $75 million to distribute money from the relief package.
“Yet the state comes to us and say they need more money,” he said “How can I ask Congress to do that when the state hasn’t spent anything?
“The contractors are milking our state,” Graves said. “The flood victims are being hit again.”
FEMA’s May deadline for flood victims to vacate from mobile-housing units further exacerbates recovery, he said. The agency announced it would charge rent for the units after March 1 and impose an additional $500 monthly penalty on residents after May 1.
“It adds insult to injury,” Graves said. “It’s a source of frustration for me.”
It does not take away from the solid comeback and the resilience of Livingston Parish residents, however, he said.
Congress has approved more than $8 billion toward recovery from the flood, which affected more than 80 percent of the residential and commercial structures across Livingston Parish.
“We’re not done yet,” Graves said. “We have more work to do.”
Graves said he worked Wednesday with Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Mark Harrell to put the parish in line to receive an additional $100 million for which the parish would have full control of programs for additional flood protection efforts, he said.
The funds would come on top of the money Congress has already allocated to the Comite River Diversion Canal project.
Graves said challenges continue for him and other Congressmen on the ability to pass a concise appropriations bill.
Congress received the $1.3 trillion spending bill – a 2,300-page document – on a Wednesday night and approved it at noon the next day. He said he read through the bill, but he does not believe one large bill serves the best interest of Americans.
“I love the opportunity to represent this area, which is a great group of people selling a great product,” Graves said. “But it’s not the way to govern, and I can’t stand in front of you and say that was a great bill because you can’t fully digest spending that much money in just sixteen hours … it’s not the way to govern.”
Graves opposed a similar bill and said the government should not shove all the project into one bill. He and other congressional members tried to solve the problem by dividing the appropriations bill into 12 separate documents.
“We sent them to the Senate, but they didn’t tough one of them, so we’re back into the same situation of one bill with all the projects lumped into one,” Graves said. “I’m not going to stand here and blame the Senate, but it’s the Senate’s fault.”
Bipartisan legislation is not a lost cause, however.
Graves touted his efforts with Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans on the bill to end the controversial “Duplication of Benefits” provision, which has blocked SBA loan applicants from receiving benefits from FEMA or Restore Louisiana.
“That’s absurd,” Graves said. “I’m not a banker, but I know a loan is a loan and you have to pay it back.”
A move toward bipartisan politics marks the best interests for the future of the nation, he said.
“All day long, I’ll debate and what’s wrong or right for our country, but we don’t have to be disagreeable,” Graves said. “In the end, we’re all Americans and we all care about the country.”