Lawmakers sound off over pace of Restore Louisiana grants

(WAFB) - The state agency over the Restore Louisiana program is giving homeowners a better idea of when they can expect to receive gr ant money to help rebuild from the March and August floods of 2016.

Senator Bodi White piped up during a recent meeting of the Joint Budget Committee about what he refers to as a slow and painful process of receiving gr ants through Restore Louisiana. The program was created to help homeowners affected by flooding last year repair and restore their damaged homes, or get reimbursed for work that's already been done. The state has $1.7 billion in federal funds allocated for the program, but lawmakers argue it's not moving fast enough.

"I think it's imperative we push it out if it's available as fast as we can to the flood victims because so many of them have just given up and they have no faith in us anymore. I'll be frank with you," said White.

"What I find out every time is they are going to say, we hadn't got anything. We got approved, but I haven't gotten any money. There comes a time that you've got to write the check," said Senator Francis Thompson.

According to Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development, 45,000 homeowners completed the required survey. More than 37,000 may be eligible for a gr ant. So far, the state has awarded 1,800 homeowners a total of $56 million.

"We are doing everything we can to make this go as fast as we can. No matter how fast we go, it won't be fast enough," said Forbes.

Forbes says Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have made it difficult for the state to get building inspectors. He says leaders are working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to set up training programs to recruit people with that skill set to go to work. Forbes says the goal is to have all inspections done in the next nine to eleven months.

"If we can staff beyond that and get inspections done more quickly with HUD in terms of scope of work, that could speed this up dramatically," said Forbes.

Sen. Thompson suggests that those who might need a reminder of the scope of the 2016 floods take a little trip down memory lane. "Whoever is holding the purse strings ought to go out and look at the people who are suffering every day," he said.

Forbes says once the new system is in place, eligible homeowners should see their money 30 to 45 days after they apply.

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