The Investigators: FEMA 6 Months Later - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

The Investigators: FEMA 6 Months Later

FEMA officials sit down with Kiran Chawla to give an update six months after August's historic floods. (Source: WAFB) FEMA officials sit down with Kiran Chawla to give an update six months after August's historic floods. (Source: WAFB)
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

Many neighborhood streets are now lined with FEMA's manufactured housing units, or MHUs.

In total, FEMA expects to deliver about 4,500 of them in all. Now six months after the flood, the 9News Investigators sat down with FEMA's top brass.

"We have over $4.5 billion in federal assistance in various forms currently on the streets here in the state of Louisiana," said Gerard Stolar, FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer.

How's that $4.5 billion being used?

-$456 million went to 35,000 households to make homes habitable
-$2.2 million provided for disaster unemployment assistance
-$134 million to 67,000 households to pay rent
-$1.2 billion dollars in SBA loans to 17,000 families
-$36 million went to put 4,300 households in hotels paid by FEMA

FEMA's partners also doled out money. For example, the Department of Agriculture gave out $90 million in food stamp benefits.

FEMA still has about 400 families waiting on trailers. Having missed its self-imposed Jan. 31, 2016 deadline to have all trailers installed, Stolar said all the remaining units are in state and ready for installation, weather pending.

STOLAR: "We're now looking at about the third week of February to be complete," Stolar said.

Does that seem to be a solid deadline?

"I think, right now, I'm much more confident in the third week of February being solid," Stolar replied.

FEMA said one thing that's taken so long to get all units in place is that most are put in a homeowner's yard versus large FEMA trailer parks as we've seen in past disasters.

"The governor made it very clear when this event occurred that his desire was to keep communities together," Stolar explained.

But these temporary homes are expensive, $62,500 a piece, plus an even bigger price tag once FEMA pays for installation and inspections.

People are saying, 'Well, if FEMA can spend $120,000 or $140,000, why not give me that money? I can rebuild a home.

"The statutes and regulations under which FEMA operate don't allow them to do that," said Mark Riley, FEMA's State Coordinating Officer. "There's a cap on the grant that we call the individual assistance grant. There's a cap on that money and many people who are in trailers have received that cap."

"I won't dispute the fact that it is a costly temporary housing option, much more costly than a temporary trailer was," Stolar added.

While some victims have praised the response by FEMA, others have told horror stories particularly when it comes to getting answers from FEMA.

Do you feel there is a communication gap within FEMA?

"I think in every process like this, there are communication lessons learned. Communication is a very important part of what we do," Riley answered.

We reached out to people on my Facebook page asking them if they can ask FEMA some questions. Why has it been so difficult to contact FEMA?

"I don't know that it's been so difficult to contact FEMA, not quite sure that's been the case," Stolar responded.

I've interviewed several people who have complained that they cannot get in touch with FEMA or they will make a call, ask questions and they will never get a call back. Why?

"There are a lot of points of communication. I'm sure there are instances where people did not understand or felt like they weren't getting the right answer or didn't get the answer they wanted but the communication system is there," Riley replied.

What about the adjusters or inspectors who came out to flooded homes? Our previous investigative reports have shown a big discrepancy depending on who your inspector was. As we found, one flood victim might get the max from FEMA while a nearby homeowner with similar damage gets much less. Do those inspectors need more training?

"I think everybody needs more training especially after an event like this, of this magnitude there's always an opportunity to go back and review our tactics, techniques and procedures to make sure we're doing things in as consistent a manner as possible," said Stolar.

"I don't think you're going to get absolute consistency with 1,000 inspectors," Riley added.

If you believe you should have received more, FEMA said you can request that a second inspector be sent out.

Many people have said that they have been denied on appeals. Why?

"That's a case-by-case analysis. There are no blanket denials. There are specific eligibility requirements that are established and if you meet those eligibility requirements, you get assistance. If you don't, you don't get assistance," Riley answered.

Both of these FEMA workers admit the process is tedious.

"Don't give up on the process. It is a highly regulatory bureaucratic process but that's the nature of the beast," Riley explained.

"I would just ask that you be patient and resilient and allow us to continue to do the work we are here to do. We will be here as long as we are needed," stated Stolar.

Friday on 9News at 10 p.m., the 9News Investigators talk to FEMA about what its plans are for the FEMA trailers once people move back into their homes and what will be done with the additional federal money that's on the way to Louisiana.

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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