'We don't have enough money,' state prioritizes federal flood grants

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The State Office of Community Development is holding a series of public meetings to explain their flood action plan that will be submitted to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, in January.  The plan outlines how the state will distribute nearly $438 million dollars in Community Block Development Grants, CBDG, which can be used to help repair or rebuild homes, and support critical small businesses.

While additional funding is expected, only a fraction of flood victims will see the first round of grants.

"We have not nearly enough money to help all the people who need help for a full recovery," said Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development.

Governor John Bel Edwards has requested more than $3 billion to help with recovery, about 8 times the amount originally allocated.

Using data from FEMA, state officials estimated that $438 million will only help rebuild about 4,000 homes. Forbes' office and the Restore Louisiana Task Force had an impossible job of decided how to prioritize the funds.

They came up with five requirements to put people in the most need at the top of the list: 
-the impacted home experienced major/severe damages according to the FEMA standard 
-the applicant must meet low to moderate income requirements
- the applicant must live outside the floodplain
- the applicant must have no flood insurance 
- the applicant must be 62 years or older, or have a disabled person in the household

If you qualify, the grant has several options to help pay for repairs or rental assistance. A small portion of the grant will also go towards helping vital small businesses, like grocery stores.

The grants will help victims of both the March and August flooding. By federal requirement, the 6 parishes with the most damage will receive 80% of the funding. Those parishes are Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Lafayette, Ouachita and Tangipahoa.

As for applying for the CDBG funding, Forbes says they will be sending out surveys to anyone affected by flooding. If the survey shows a home qualifies for a grant, the state will reach out with an application.

Even so, it will be next year before any checks are written.

HUD has up to 60 days to approve the state's action plan, which will be submitted in January. While Forbes does not expect HUD to take a full two months, he says it will be at least mid-April before grants can be handed out.

Forbes explained that as the state receives more money, they will be able to expand the requirements and help more people.  Forbes added that HUD allocated an additional $1.25 billion dollars last week.

"We will certainly help people who are not low to moderate income. We will have- while not all of the money we need to have a full recovery for everybody who got flooded- we will be in much better shape," said Forbes.

The newly allocated money will require submitting another action plan, but Forbes says it will be essentially the same plan already prepared which will make the process faster.

Meanwhile, thousands of homeowners will be excluded from the CGBG funds while they wait for the Feds to send more money. Retiree Peggy Gonzales, who attended one of the first public meetings, is frustrated.

"I have insurance. I was penalized," said Gonzale. "The flood didn't discriminate."

Gonzales said she understands why the grants need to be prioritized, but she doesn't understand why getting help to victims is so difficult.  The Baton Rouge resident has a one-inch binder full of applications and information on every program available.  She has to elevate her home seven feet. Four months later, she's no closer to getting home.

"We wind up having the same exact problem with the exact same people involved with the exact same outcome. Can we just get the ball rolling? Why are we having to wait so long?" said Gonzales.

To review or comment on the state's action plan for the CDBG funding, click here: http://www.doa.la.gov/Pages/ocd-dru/Action_Plans.aspx

The public comment period goes through January 3. The state is holding a serious of public meetings on this topic. The schedule is found here: http://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/calendar.

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