The Louisiana GOP Just Trashed Gov. Edwards On His Flood-Recovery Performance

Surely the response to this is that it’s partisan politics and nothing else, but our readers are aware that this has been an issue which has been going on for a while and is considerably bigger than partisanship. Edwards is going to have to address it, and soon.

From a press release the state Republican Party put out yesterday…

Four and a half months after catastrophic flooding throughout Louisiana, much needed money for communities and families is being held up because Governor John Bel Edwards has yet to submit a plan to spend it.

Despite Edwards’ penchant for spending taxpayers’ money–his dalliance with relief money is beginning to channel his democrat predecessor, Kathleen Blanco. Edwards has yet to submit a plan to spend $1 billion of federal flood relief money secured for the state by Louisiana’s congressional delegation.

“The federal government will not release any money until the state submits a plan detailing how the funds will be appropriated,” LAGOP Executive Director Jason Dorè said. “Governor Edwards has spent the last few months singularly focused on the Senate race, in which his chosen candidate was soundly defeated. But that race is over, and the reality is that Governor Edwards has waited too long to do his job and help to relieve the suffering in our flooded communities.”

Beginning in September, Louisiana’s Republican Congressional Delegation urged Governor Edwards to put together a plan immediately on how he’d spend the appropriated federal dollars.

“I just want to urge that it’s going to probably be much easier for our negotiations — or better for our negotiations holistically — if we’ve got a plan submitted very clear on how these dollars are going to be spent,” Congressman Garret Graves said following the September appropriation.

“People are tired of waiting for assistance. Governor Edwards was asked four months ago to come up with a plan and has failed to do so,” Dorè said. “Our congressional leaders have acted and secured the beginnings of our road to recovery–Governor Edwards needs to do his job or step out of the way and let someone else do it for him.”

Louisiana officials should be very familiar with guidelines for securing federal disaster relief assistance after our experiences recovering from major hurricanes and the BP Oil Spill. Yet, as we ring in a new year, families and communities are left hanging in the wind by the inaction of one man: Governor John Bel Edwards.

Graves is not an especially partisan politician; in fact, of all the Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation he’s probably the least likely to engage in tribal game-playing. And as the release says, Graves has been sounding the alarm on the lack of a flood recovery plan since September.

So has the rest of the state’s delegation. We’ve covered the questions they’ve been asking here, herehere and here, along with the fairly constant stream of excuses the Edwards administration has been making about how the feds haven’t put forth their guidelines on what the state’s recovery plan must look like. The problem with that narrative from the governor, according to the delegation, is that the federal guidelines have been fairly consistent in principle for two decades, and since Louisiana has a good deal of institutional knowledge of the disaster recovery game those guidelines can be anticipated and a plan written with the likely outcome in mind – and tweaks made where necessary.

Instead it’s January – the flood happened in August, and the first batch of federal recovery funds was appropriated in September, and as of right now it’s likely April before any of that money is actually released to do anyone any good – and there has been no plan.

So far the only concrete actions Edwards has taken with respect to flood recovery involve the Shelter-At-Home program he cooked up with FEMA, which involved paying contractors to come out to flooded houses and installing a few necessary fixtures deemed necessary to make them livable until full repairs could be made. Here’s how well that went – from a piece that went up at the Advocate last night

But even in the Woodland Hills neighborhood, where homes took on 4 feet of water and construction crews continue to work on more permanent home repairs, homeowners aren’t in agreement that Shelter at Home was a success.

Patricia Young, who has lived at her home on Breeden for 16 years, received a new sink and counter through Shelter at Home, and repairs were made to her electrical wiring.

“I think it was the biggest waste of money that I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It was horrible and ineffective.”

Young, like many others who have had harsh reviews of the program, said she thinks that it would make more sense to give the money to the homeowners and let them decide how to use it, rather than offering specific temporary repair work.

That wouldn’t be legal under the federal laws that regulate how FEMA money is spent. FEMA has said that the federal Stafford Act in its current form allows only temporary repairs — an effort driven by attempts to discourage misuse and fraud.

“It comes with severe limitations because you’re working through FEMA,” Edwards said. “There are some things we’d like to do differently, but we need FEMA to have more flexibility than they believe they have.”

Edwards is saying that once people calibrated their expectations of the program downward, reviews are much more positive. But it’s clear that for $110 million, people expected to have repairs done which wouldn’t have to be ripped out a month or two later – and combined with the lack of a permanent recovery plan the impression he’s giving off is that he only knows how to waste money rather than spend it effectively.

The governor’s people don’t seem to understand how badly this can go for him, particularly when he goes for higher taxes this spring in an attempt to mend a budget deficit he said he’d made progress with last year. He’s had above-water approval ratings in several statewide surveys last year, but those didn’t translate into good fortune for any Democrat candidates in the 2016 electoral cycle, and the flood recovery issue will weigh down those numbers as it lingers without being addressed.

The issue is festering. We saw during Bobby Jindal’s long descent from 70-plus percent approval to 20-something percent what a corrosive effect unsolved or perceivedly unaddressed problems can have. It appears Edwards learned little from Jindal’s experience, and it’s this failing which could easily cement him as a one-term governor.

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