WASHINGTON, DC (WAFB) - Congress has approved a fix for the “Duplication of Benefits” problem that kept thousands of Louisiana residents from accessing disaster recovery dollars after the 2016 floods.
The federal government instructed Louisiana residents who had experienced flood damage to apply for a Small Business Administration loan to help pay for repairs. Applicants who were approved could not access flood recovery dollars through Louisiana’s Restore program.
Many Louisianans were planning to use Restore dollars to pay off SBA loans.
“This is a real solution for real people that have been victimized by their own government,” U.S. Rep. Garret Graves said. “The contents of the bill truly reflect the feedback that we got from people in our public gatherings in the aftermath of the flood.”
The Louisiana delegation had repeatedly tried to push a fix through congress, but were denied. In response, the delegation attached the disaster reforms to a bill that re-authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Congress had to pass the bill to keep planes in the sky.
“There was not a single person that we met with that had a rational, logical argument for opposing what we’re doing,” Graves said. “There were a lot of people who were acting on misinformation - very boldly expressing information and positions that were incorrect or not based on facts.”
The bill now heads to President Donald Trump for his signature, which Graves expects by the weekend (Oct. 6). From there, Gov. John Bel Edwards will submit a request to Trump asking him to release the funds.
Louisiana could have the legal ability to send out checks by late November.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy released a video statement about the passage.
“We had thousands of people in Louisiana [after] the great flood of 2016 who were told to get an SBA loan," said Cassidy. “Then they found out that because they did exactly what they were told, they couldn’t get a restore Louisiana recovery grant. Folks were punished for being responsible, doing the right thing. This bill fixes that and I’m proud to say it’ll be signed into law. I’m happy families will have what they need to complete their recovery. We can’t do away with the flood, but we can do everything we can to bring those families back to where they were before the flood.”
“Today is a great day for South Louisiana and for the entire nation,” said Congressman Garret Graves. “This is one of the most significant disaster recovery and preparedness bills to pass Congress in decades, and we will be a more resilient country because of it. For two years we fought and fought to fix duplication of benefits for flood victims – passing it through the House three separate times. That persistence has finally paid off, and our flood victims are going to get the relief they deserve. Importantly, this new law will finally enable us to put into practice lessons learned from our August 2016 flood, recent hurricanes and other events across the nation. As we start to take the proactive approach to disasters that this law calls for, American communities will start to be stronger and safer - and American taxpayers will save money. This new law is what the rest of the country would simply call, ‘common sense.’”
“This has been a long time coming,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. “In the earliest days of our recovery, my administration began to sound the alarm on this ridiculous federal regulation. Thousands of hardworking families and individuals have been unable to receive the assistance we feel they deserve from the Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program because the federal government has required the Restore program to consider a loan from the Small Business Administration the same as a grant, therefore calling it a duplication. This penalty has been the single biggest roadblock to getting assistance to homeowners. This fix would not have been possible without the leadership of Congressmen Garret Graves and Cedric Richmond, as well as Senator Bill Cassidy. As soon as President Trump signs the bill into law, we will submit the necessary waiver and await guidance from HUD. We are one step closer to providing these families the assistance they need and deserve. Last week I instructed the Restore Louisiana program to reopen the survey period until October 19 to allow every homeowner who has not filled it out one last opportunity to do so. I encourage you fill it out and submit it immediately.”
“Under the current rules, the federal government treats a loan from the Small Business Administration like a disaster benefit, which then often prevents people from qualifying for disaster grants down the road. We are essentially punishing people for being diligent about rebuilding their homes after a disaster, and enough was enough. I am hopeful that this legislation will help thousands of families who are still trying to recover from the flood. Sen. Cassidy deserves credit for taking the lead on this issue and bringing it over the finish line," said Senator John Kennedy, who voted in favor of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
And on the much-needed help for schools that flooded in 2016, Kennedy said, "The 2016 flooding was unprecedented and hit schools in Livingston, East Baton Rouge, and Ascension especially hard. School districts need to focus on students, not on battling bureaucracy. This solution ensures that districts won’t be penalized for every single structure that flooded. Instead, they’ll only have to pay it one time, and one time only. They’ll take a lick and be able to move on.”
Currently, federal disaster homeowners who qualify for SBA loans are prohibited from seeking Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding to repay their SBA disaster loans or use it to supplement assistance for recovery purposes.
According to Cassidy, this measure modifies the Stafford Act to ensure that this duplication of benefits language interpretation does not continue to hurt disaster victims who were approved for SBA loans and then are unable to receive CDBG-DR funds.