For five years, I’ve been blessed to know three kids who will, this February, become my stepchildren.
These two young men and one boy – Jesse, Caleb, and George (19, 16, and 11, respectively) have taught me a lot in our five years of knowing each other. I’ve grown to understand the difference between hearing out a genuine concern from one of them about a particular topic, to the unfounded complaints of “I need” for something that, by my reckoning, would not feed, clothe, or shelter a starving child in Africa and therefore the word “need” does not apply.
And all points in between.
They already treat me like a dad – that is, they want to share the highs, and the lows, and then get mad at me when I lower the boom for any particular reason, with very little concern for the action that created the consequence.
And in that vein, FEMA has become a lot like a parent.
To be clear – no one is perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and that includes yours truly. In fact, plenty of people who read this column and our paper let me know that, at various turns, through social media, written letters, and my voicemail box.
FEMA proved that quite quickly after the Great Flood of 2016.
As Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry tells it, just a few days after the water receded FEMA showed up, en masse, “to help.” The group requested several hotel rooms for the managers and their work staff to which the mayor laughed and said, “You and everyone else.”
It took awhile for the message to sink in, as it would for any parent who had made a misstep, but in the end FEMA buckled down and offered Denham Springs and Walker extra labor help to do home inspections and process paperwork.
The parish had the same offer on the table; it rebelled – as in declined.
And therein lies the issue. Livingston Parish was unable to do the work required of it, and it has since cost parish homeowners 5 percent on their flood insurance bills, via removal from the Community Rating System (CRS), and very nearly being kicked out of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) all together.
It’s easy to cast disdain and hate toward FEMA. It has made its own mistakes – such as registering several culverts in Livingston Parish, damaged during the Great Flood, as a $30,000 repair when, in reality, the final estimate should have been closer to $1 million – which it was after an appeal.
That’s where the state’s Washington, D.C., delegation steps in – they’re the other parent, the one who couches the good and bad decisions against logic and fights for a resolution from both sides. Currently, Congressman Garret Graves is trying to assist with road inundation arbitration through independent federal judges.
FEMA has clauses regarding inundated roads, namely that it doesn’t fund the damage, but Livingston Parish officials disagree with the circumstances and are going to fight for it.
However, in most cases, there is an appeals process that, whether with the help of the D.C. delegation or not, can be followed to fix situations.
But is fighting the ruleset, especially on the brink of losing hundreds of millions in grant funding as well as the chance to lose flood insurance, worth the battle?
This doesn’t mean to stop fighting for the people, but sometimes fighting for the people means winning the battles that are meant to be won, and letting the others go to focus on other projects.
Because in the end, the way things are set up now, FEMA is driving the bus – and this time it took the high road on Livingston Parish and offered help. It controls the rulesets for the NFIP and the CRS, and the millions of dollars that come with that in the form of discounts, grants, and insurance payments.
Perhaps it would be a better solution to try and mend the rules – via the Washington delegation - so that FEMA isn’t in so much control?
Because if you want to fight the rules, be prepared to bite the hand that feeds, and accept the consequences that come after.
J. McHugh David is editor and publisher of the Livingston Parish News.