Restore Louisiana, the catchy-sounding governmental effort to assist victims of the August 2016 flood in South Louisiana operated by the John Bel Edwards administration and funded with federal dollars, has been plagued with incompetence, corruption and lies from the start.
We’re now close to the finish. Things aren’t better.
Three years after floods swept across portions of southern Louisiana, only 36 percent of homeowners who applied for help through the Restore Louisiana program have been approved for grants and about one-third have received checks for repairs, according to a recent report from the relief program.
There was more than $1.2 billion in federal funds allocated for rebuilding efforts following floods in March and August 2016, but only $575 million was offered to homeowners across the state. Of that total, $412 million was disbursed as of July 26. Any remaining funds are expected to be reallocated to other Restore Louisiana programs, including rentals, temporary housing, flood insurance assistance, business and farmer assistance.
More than 65,800 residences across East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston parishes were impacted by flooding in August 2016, according to federal data.
Restore Louisiana, a statewide program meant to aid homeowners looking to rebuild after the flood through the use of federal dollars, collected more than 56,200 initial surveys from residents about damages and ultimately 43,205 homeowners applied for grant assistance.
Of those who applied for grants, only 15,634 homeowners were offered grants through Restore Louisiana and 12,980 homeowners have been sent checks as of July 26.
Restore Louisiana found that 11,000 homeowners were given zero awards because they had received duplicative benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration or private flood insurance that was greater than the cost of the damages. That number is expected to drop after new SBA guidance in July that opens the door for homeowners to receive some grant money even if they were awarded or drew down on SBA funds to make home repairs.
There was a town hall not long ago at which this was discussed, and the grant money in question will be first used to pay off SBA loans.
You might think that’s a good thing. After all, the homeowners who had to take out those loans in order to get started on rebuilding their flooded houses will be relieved of that debt.
On the other hand, if your SBA loan carries a lower interest rate than some other instrument you might use, it’s not the best use of your money to have that be paid off first rather than a credit card or second mortgage you might have taken in order to finance those repairs, and you might be more than a little irritated that the government is paying itself back before you, in pursuit of allegedly helping you.
We’re told that town hall did not go well. As in, there was a largely empty room when it was over and damn few people in it who’ll be voting for Bel Edwards this fall.
Particularly when the attendees were told that priority would be made for people below the median income – and those above 110 percent of the median would likely be denied any further benefits outside of paying off those SBA loans.
The real question here is, given how meager the participation in Restore Louisiana has actually been, which was a function of large-scale delays in standing the program up (which we covered pretty extensively back in the day), how is there not ample money to take care of people who were not Bel Edwards’ voting base?
That’s one we don’t have the answer for. Maybe Bel Edwards has it. Maybe he can explain it to Rep. Ralph Abraham, who’s asking rude questions on the subject…