BATON ROUGE – A resolution the Restore Louisiana Task Force approved at its meeting Feb. 15 will put pressure on federal agencies to speed up the process guidance of distribution on additional Restore Louisiana Task Force awards.
The resolution highlighted what was the final meeting of the task force, which at first met on a monthly – and later bimonthly – basis in the period after the August 2016 flood.
Members approved the measure amid growing frustration over a long delay in the distribution of the new money, which came into play when the House and Senate agreed to strike down the Duplication of Benefits provision for natural disasters between 2012 and 2021. The rules blocked more than 30,000 homeowners from eligibility for Restore awards if they had previously applied for SBA loans.
Congress put the legislation in the Federal Aviation Administration bill with a provision it could not be eliminated from the package before it went for a vote. A strike down of the FAA measure would have shut down aviation and led to economic fallout.
Task Force members questioned and expressed frustration over the latest round of delays, largely over the slow movement from the federal government.
“This year will be three years since the flood, and we still haven’t received due guidance,” said Task Force member Chip Kline, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “To me, it’s unacceptable that we don’t have regulations on how dollars are to be spent.”
The process represents a departure for FEMA, the Small Business Administration, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in terms of interpreting language of the legislation, said Pat Forbes, executive director for the state Office of Community Development.
HUD allocates the money for the Restore Louisiana awards.
Forbes said HUD had not previously dealt with a federal order to eliminate Duplication of Benefits, but he said the guidelines should not be difficult to interpret.
“I’m not here to make excuses for HUD,” he said. “In our mind, the legislative language is perfectly clear.”
Homeowners can expect an additional delay, thanks to the federal government shutdown. The 35-day government-imposed hiatus amid the budget battle will likely lead in a delay which spans the duration of the shutdown, or longer.
The final letter on interpretation will come from the principal assistant deputy secretary from HUD, Forbes said. The state must still provide proof to HUD that all funds are spent for a purpose related to recovery, even after the agency releases the document on guidance.
“With all these different layers, what can we do to help you all find the right pair of scissors to cut through all this red tape?” said Rob Shadoin, a former Republican state representative from Ruston. “Right now, this process is moving at the speed of a glacier.”
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, said after the meeting he could not determine a valid reason behind the long delay after passage and President Trump's signing of the FAA bill.
He agrees with Congressman Garret Graves on what may have caused the delay.
"This is all about retaliation," he said. "I think they were mad because this was put into the FAA bill, so now they're delaying this is long as possible."
Graves said one week earlier that he and other federal lawmakers plan to speak with HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson in a conference call to resolve the issues that have prompted the delay. The conversation is set for this week.
Graves told The News last week he would file a lawsuit against HUD and other federal agencies if the delay continues but he said that move would be a last resort measure.