After all, when the state of Louisiana draws down $1.3 billion in federal aid to deliver flood recovery, and two years after the flood Restore Louisiana, the state’s flood recovery program, can’t even give away half of that money because people would rather go without than deal with the state, that’s what you’d call poor performance, right?
Well, that’s what you have. The Baton Rouge Advocate finally consented to tell the truth about this mess over the weekend…
Despite heavy publicity, more than 20,000 households with significant damage from the 2016 flood in south Louisiana never took the first step to tap the $1.3 billion set aside for home reconstruction under the Restore Louisiana program, a new state report says.
The failure to fill out the initial, five-minute damage survey is expected to contribute to 44 percent fewer households than initially anticipated being able to access the recovery money, officials with the state program say.
Higher-than-expected rates of withdrawals from the recovery program — after homeowners proceed further along in the process — and higher-than-expected numbers of homeowners who had their potential award canceled out by U.S. Small Business Administration loans, flood insurance and other grants are also contributing to the 44 percent figure.
Of the more than 20,000 households that did not fill out surveys, more than half of them were in the worst-hit parishes during the August 2016 flood: East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston, according to Restore data.
As many as 12,000 of those 20,000 households didn’t also receive SBA loans or flood insurance payments and so they likely would have needed help, program officials said.
They’re now saying Restore Louisiana will end up spending $649 million of the $1.3 billion laid by for the program. Which is just less than half.
Why such a small number? One reason given was that Louisianans are a stubborn, self-reliant bunch…
But Restore officials were at a loss to explain why so many people would not try to benefit. Forbes said although the program was promoted heavily through the media, billboards and electronic messaging, many Louisiana residents prefer their self-reliance and weren’t interested in government help.
“There is definitely a group of people in Louisiana who because they went and got their house rebuilt, they’re resilient, whatever, their son-in-law came and helped, they never asked us for money,” Forbes said in a recent interview with The Advocate editorial board. “There’s just a population in Louisiana that’s like that. They don’t want help. They did it, and they decided somebody else should get the money.”
Yeah, well…Rep. Garret Graves had a slightly different take on the matter…
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican from Baton Rouge whose district encompasses much of the worst-hit areas, said his office, like the state, heavily encouraged residents to fill out the initial survey even if they had doubts that they could get the assistance. But he said people may have considered the paperwork so much red tape.
“The people that we are dealing with, we’re hearing a lot of people say, ‘You know what? Look. It’s just a pain in the butt,’ ” Graves said. ” ‘I filled out paperwork for SBA. I filled out paperwork for FEMA. I may have filled out paperwork for flood insurance. I filled the same damn stuff for Restore, and I’m sick of the bureaucracy.’ ”
Graves was being polite, or maybe the Advocate wasn’t interested in printing what he knows is the real reason.
Namely, that John Bel Edwards has screwed this thing up as badly as it can be screwed up, and because of his incompetence Restore Louisiana didn’t get stood up anywhere near fast enough to do the good it needed to be.
Graves told Edwards immediately after the August 2016 flood that he needed to hire a program manager and get field assessments for damage to affected households, so that a program could be in place to manage recovery dollars as soon as they were appropriated and put them in the hands of affected homeowners who couldn’t be made whole through flood insurance.
Edwards wasted valuable time squabbling with Graves and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation after the flood, so much so that he was in DC meeting with Harry Reid and getting involved in a partisan fight over a bailout for the Flint, Michigan water supply instead of putting Louisiana in the best position to administer federal flood recovery dollars. And that program manager wasn’t hired until almost a year after the flood.
Edwards said the problem was he was waiting on guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But those guidelines haven’t substantially changed for decades, and the congressional delegation told him that whatever minor changes were coming from what had been published following the 2015 flooding in South Carolina or the 2012 Hurricane Sandy floods could be smoothed over on Capitol Hill such that they wouldn’t slow down the flood recovery appropriations. He didn’t listen.
And worse, his hand-picked stooge on the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors Larry Bankston blew up the program manager contract under dubious circumstances, which added a couple of extra months to the wait.
The effect of all this was that lots of the affected people just gave up trying to get help from the government. They took out loans, they cashed in retirement savings, or sometimes they just gave the bank the house keys and got a new job and apartment somewhere else.
And a year and a half on from the flood, they were past being interested in Restore Louisiana’s help.
It’s almost like Graves was right when he told Edwards time was of the essence. What’s most surprising about this was that the Advocate actually reported on the fact the public gave up on Edwards’ flood recovery program; most of the affected people already knew that months ago, but perhaps it’s better late than never for the legacy media to report it.