LA Gov. Aide Nevers Says Of Flood Recovery: 'We're Frustrated, Too'
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards' chief of staff told state senators Thursday that federal regulations and laws governing disaster response are hampering Louisiana's ability to recover from two devastating floods last year.
"We're frustrated, too," Ben Nevers told a Senate homeland security committee, amid complaints about the slow pace of aid to victims of the March and August floods in 2016.
The flooding caused billions in devastation across Louisiana, damaging an estimated 112,000 homes. Congress has allocated $1.6 billion in block grant aid for recovery efforts. None of the money has reached flood victims, with the earliest dollars expected to flow in April or May.
Other programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have provided more than $750 million in immediate recovery aid, but that has been for temporary relief, not long-term repair grants for homes and businesses, like the block grants will offer.
Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said "most of north Louisiana believes they've been forgotten," waiting for assistance nearly a year after the March flooding that damaged the region.
The Edwards administration said it's moving as quickly as it can within federal requirements, some of which Nevers said seem ridiculous. Some requirements can be waived by the president, while other changes would require congressional action.
"We're hampered by the rules that the federal government has implemented, by the law," Nevers said.
Despite their frustration, senators didn't directly criticize the Edwards administration, though they questioned some of the governor's plans.
Edwards intends to spend $1.3 billion of the federal block grant aid on homeowner aid. About 36,000 homeowners are expected to receive rebuilding assistance: those with major or severe damage from the flooding — considered a foot or more of water or at least $8,000 in destruction — who didn't have flood insurance coverage.
If the plans are approved by federal officials, other dollars will go to business and agriculture recovery programs, rental housing assistance and reimbursement to state and local governments for disaster response.
Committee Chairman Mack "Bodi" White, R-Baton Rouge, whose district was heavily damaged by the August flooding, questioned the $66 million set aside for administration of recovery programs. He talked of dollars wasted on contractors and fees after Hurricane Katrina.
"I can assure you we do not want to waste one dollar that we can move from an administrative cost to a homeowner," Nevers said.
Walsworth worried north Louisianians who already repaired their homes won't be able to meet the paperwork requirements to get aid from the homeowner program.
"Ten months later you can't say, 'Here's the rules and we'll reimburse you, but you've got to have all the receipts from 10 months ago,'" Walsworth said.
Nevers said the administration hoped to "find some flexible means" to help them.
Walsworth replied: "I'm just scared it's going to be too little, too late."
The Edwards administration says Louisiana is $2 billion short of what the state needs for recovery efforts. The governor plans to travel to Washington next month to lobby President Donald Trump's administration and Congress for more money.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte