Washington lawmakers criticize FEMA, state flood recovery efforts

Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Gov. John Bel Edwards (Source: CBS/WAFB)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Gov. John Bel Edwards (Source: CBS/WAFB)
House Oversight Committee (Source: CBS/WAFB)
House Oversight Committee (Source: CBS/WAFB)

WASHINGTON, DC (WAFB) - FEMA and Governor John Bel Edwards came under fire Wednesday, with Washington lawmakers calling Louisiana's flood recovery efforts "disastrous."

"We've seen this movie before, and we've seen it in Louisiana, and we've failed again," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Gov. Edwards testified alongside Robert Fenton, the acting head of FEMA, and others before the House Oversight Committee. Many on the panel accused FEMA of dropping the ball, saying the manufactured housing units (MHUs) cost too much money and took too long to install. They also took on the federal contractor, CB&I Federal Services, saying the MHUs were not well maintained.

"There's something wrong with the company. There's something wrong with the management, and it might be you," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.

However, FEMA was not alone. The Republicans on the panel focused many of their attacks on Edwards, a Democrat.

"It looks to me like one disaster led to another disaster from decisions coming from the state," said Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. "I cannot imagine how you give yourself a B+ in this."

The criticism centered on the Shelter at Home program, which provided quick, minimal repairs to make a portion of damaged homes livable. The governor said they implemented the program in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the post-Katrina era, when whole communities became ghost towns. Edwards admitted the program was not perfect, but said federal restrictions deserve part of the blame.

"There are certain repairs that make a house look and feel like a home, such as insulation and sheetrock on the exterior walls, that were not permitted under federal guidelines. While we did request to expand the program to include these repairs, we were denied," said Edwards.

For weeks, the governor has butted heads with Louisiana Congressman Garret Graves over how long it has taken to get additional flood aid to the Bayou State and into the hands of flood victims. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved $1.6 billion in additional aid.

The debate reached a fever pitch during the hearing, with Graves accusing Edwards of not acting fast enough and not having a mechanism in place to distribute the money when it arrives in state.

"I'm going around meeting with people, who are literally living in tents, living in un-insulated homes, don't have businesses opened up," said Graves.

The governor fired back, saying they are stilling waiting for the feds to extend a line of credit to the state. "The money is not yet available, there's nothing we could have done before today to make it available," he said.

After the hearing wrapped up, the sole Democrat on Louisiana's congressional delegation, Rep. Cedric Richmond, issued a statement criticizing his fellow congressmen on the panel. He accused them of turning a hearing that was supposed to be about finding ways to improve disaster recovery going forward into an example of "Washington partisanship."

"The needs of flood victims in Louisiana are too great to be used as pawns in a political game," Richmond continued.

Watch the full hearing here.

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