$1.2B In LA Flood Recovery Spending Plans Approved

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana has received federal approval for its plans to spend $1.2 billion in flood recovery aid allocated by Congress, a key step before the money can flow to homeowners and others still struggling to rebuild from last year's devastation.

         The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified the state Friday that it agreed to the spending plans. HUD previously had agreed to Gov. John Bel Edwards' plan for $438 million in earlier block grant recovery aid from Congress.

         The lion's share of the money will be earmarked for homeowner aid, while additional dollars are targeted for business, agriculture and rental housing assistance.

         It's unclear when the $1.6 billion will be available for spending, however. HUD didn't offer a timeline for issuing the line of credit. The Edwards administration said it returned a signed agreement for the money Friday.

         The speed — and availability of the money — is the subject of an ongoing dispute between Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who represents hard-hit Baton Rouge, and the Democratic governor.

         Graves repeatedly has accused the Edwards administration of moving too slowly to distribute aid, claims the congressman's office again made Friday. Edwards responded that Graves is misleading people about the money's availability.

         "We should expect more from members of Congress than statements intended to mislead their own constituents," the governor said in a statement.

         Word of the latest HUD approval provoked criticism from Graves' office because Louisiana doesn't have a contractor in place to manage the recovery program. Two weeks ago, the Edwards administration scrapped its first effort to hire a firm and restarted the bid process, after issues were raised about the first round of proposals.

         "If the money is available today or available six days from now, is the governor going to spend the money? Are they ready?" Graves spokesman Kevin Roig said in an email.

         Edwards pushed back, saying the second round of soliciting bids will be fast-tracked and no delays are expected in starting the homeowner aid program in April. He said Graves "is reckless, irresponsible and flat out wrong to suggest to homeowners that funds will be available today."

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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