DENHAM SPRINGS – An end to the onerous Duplication of Benefits provision, along with efforts to secure additional flood recovery revenue for Livingston Parish, remain top priorities for the Louisiana Congressional delegation, Congressman Garret Graves.
The Republican House member from the 6th Congressional District discussed the flood and other issues during his address to the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce luncheon May 31 at Forest Grove Plantation.
“We see all the resilience here in Livingston Parish, but federal assistance remains slow, and that’s even after two years,” Graves said.
The plight with the Livingston Parish School System remains one of the worst stalemates, Graves said. The current FEMA guidelines require a $500,000 deductible per building, a cost-prohibitive sum which has left the Livingston Parish School system at an impasse on the rebuilding efforts.
A bill to provide $20 million in federal aid package for the Livingston Parish School System would jumpstart the rebuilding of structures damaged or destroyed in the flood, he said.
“We’ve worked with the Obama and Trump administrations, and neither would act fast enough, so we have a bill in the Senate now that would provide relief to the schools, get the students back on their campuses and pay the teachers a good wage,” Graves said.
Graves also promised he would continue the push for an end to the unpopular provision, which has been mired in stalemate on Capitol Hill.
Legislation sponsored by Graves and fellow Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-District 2, passed in the House before Christmas. The Senate’s reluctance to address the legislation has left the bill in a stalemate.
An addendum to the bill in April, however, will mandate a Senate vote by September, he said.
Graves said he has also drafted legislation that would call for FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration to collaborate on construction of road barriers that will not block the flow of water, as the Interstate 12 walls caused during the August 2016 flood.
A lawsuit filed last year by the Livingston Parish Government and City of Walker cites the state Department of Transportation and Development’s design of the I-12 wall for the massive flooding in that part of the parish.
“We need levees for flood protection, but we don’t need them there,” Graves said. “The wall exacerbated the flood.”
Graves and Richmond also drew approval from the House on a bill that would allow for independent arbitration after denial requests from FEMA.
The legislation would help in the appeals process, such as the Livingston Parish’s government’s steps for FEMA to reverse its refusal to help fund repair of parish roads inundated during the flood.
“Whenever FEMA tells you “no,” you have to go back to FEMA,” Graves said. “It should come as no shock that in the appeals process, they tell you “no” again and that they were right the first time.”
He also called for a revamp in the temporary housing program, which was hampered by long delays and price tags as much as $150,000 per mobile housing unit in the wake of the flood.
Graves cited Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard’s efforts to take matters into his own hands when he purchased mobile homes to house deputies whose dwellings were incapacitated after the flood.
“He created his own solution for his deputies when we he needed to maintain law and order for our community, and with a lot of them flooded and no place to live and with their personal lives in disarray, he still needed them on the street to keep them safe and secure,” Graves said.
Ard’s efforts cost one-fifth of what FEMA shelled out for MHUs, he said.
“That’s what we need, but FEMA said “no,” to reimbursement, so we’re putting in legislation to change the process,” Graves said.
The bipartisan work with Richmond also led to legislation that lifted penalties on deductions to retirement accounts to pay for home repairs after the flood.
The Internal Revenue Service will refund approximately $500 million in tax payments related to the repair-related account drafts which can be filed within three years.
Graves also hailed the Trump tax reform package, which he credits for American workers keeping more money from their paycheck.
He also lauded the President’s work on deregulation, particularly the order that calls for lawmakers to rescind two regulations for each one enacted.
“We need regulations, but we can find updated, more efficient ways to achieve these goals,” Graves said. “We have seen millions of new jobs created and trillions invested, which increases our chances for higher wages.”
Graves also spoke out against the divisive political climate. He believes the mass shootings in Las Vegas, Parkland, Fla., Charlottesville, Va., and other cities across the nation.
He also believes Louisiana should stand together for the common good of the state.
“We can disagree on what are the best solutions, but we should work together to realize goals that are the same,” Graves said. “I ask everyone in this room to work together to temper divisiveness.”