Restore Louisiana Task Force approves plan for $1.2 billion in federal flood aid

LIVINGSTON, LA (WAFB) - The Restore Louisiana Task Force approved a plan Friday to split up the second, larger pot of federal flood aid.

Congress has approved $1.6 billion so far: $1.2 billion back in December and $438 million earlier in the fall. Some of the money will go to help renters and small businesses. The largest share of the $1.6 billion, more than $1.3 billion, will go to homeowners. Even so, only about 36,000 of more than 100,000 homes impacted by the March and August floods will receive assistance. Those with structural flood insurance and with minor damage will automatically be excluded from the federal grants.

"That is why we need additional funds from Congress to make this program work," said Pat Forbes, the executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development.

The money is split up based on household income, the number of people that live in the home, and where the home is located. Lower to moderate income earners will largely receive all they need to rebuild, while higher income earners will get less. The distribution of cash per home is based on what is called the Area Median Income (AMI), which varies from one municipal area to another. (A chart of what 120 percent of AMI translates to in each parish can be found at the bottom of this story.)

Those with an income of 120 percent or less of the AMI and who meet the rest of the criteria would qualify to receive 100 percent of what is needed to rebuild. Those making more than 120 percent would only get half of what they need to rebuild.

There is a catch, however. If a person got help from FEMA or Small Business Administration loans, that reduces how much money they will qualify for. That frustrated some homeowners who got SBA loans, who asked why they bothered to get loans they have to pay off when they could have just waited for grant money.

"Loans should not be considered against your qualification, because if they are, I'll give 'em back, sit on my butt, and come get the money," said Perry Theriot from Baton Rouge.

The governor's office said the rule is to bring the state in compliance with a federal guideline. They are lobbying to get that guideline changed.

"It's a terrible concept, and so we're already working with Congress to see what we can do. It's an uphill battle," said Julie Baxter Payer, the deputy chief of staff for Gov. John Bel Edwards.

However, State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said he has yet to see any member of the Louisiana congressional delegation put forth a plan to address the problem. "I don't mind losing a fight, but I do mind them not fighting at all," James said.

The plan also includes money to reimburse those who have already completed work. Low to moderate income earners who are elderly or disabled and had severe damage, but did not have structural flood insurance, could receive 100 percent reimbursement. All others who qualify for aid could get a 25 percent reimbursement.

The governor is set to lobby for more flood aid during a trip to Washington, D.C. next month. Overall, the governor's office says Louisiana needs $3.7 billion to recover. So far, Congress has approved less than half of that.

Baxter Payer said the Manufactured Housing Unit (MHU) program continues to frustrate Edwards due to the "lack of speed" and high cost. She added more than 3,000 families are in MHUs right now and more than 2,000 MHUs are on the way to be in place by the end of February. State Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, said Gov. Edwards has done a "phenomenal job" responding to the flood. However, she advocated for some of the money to be used for preventative infrastructure, like the Comite Diversion Project.

Edwards has requested a separate $125 million pot of money from Congress to help build the project. That has, so far, not been approved.

The plan is not final. It will be opened up for public comment in the coming days. The governor's timeline has them submitting the plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by February 17.

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