Louisiana doesn’t have enough money to help flood victims

    Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the number of people initially available for flood aid. Four thousand people will be eligible and not 10,000. Daily Report regrets this error. 

    Displaced Baton Rouge flood victims living with family, in federal trailers and anywhere except their unrepaired homes for the holidays blasted the pace of flood relief on Monday as the state grapples with a deficit of needed federal dollars to help them rebuild.

    Most of the roughly 100 residents who packed into a room at BREC’s headquarters Monday night were told that even if they wait until the first round of dollars to be disbursed, likely sometime in March, they still would not qualify for aid because Louisiana has received little money thus far.

    “I don’t know who to blame for it, but we shouldn’t have to suffer like this,” said Vereta Lee, who is living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency manufactured housing unit with four grandchildren. She moved in after becoming fed up with the state’s Shelter at Home program.

    The state is working with an initial $438 million payment from the feds to dole out mostly to Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Livingston, Ouachita and Tangipahoa parishes. Another $1.2 billion has been approved by Congress, but will not be disbursed until late spring. In total, that’s $1.6 billion in flood assistance for Louisiana—about $2 billion less than the state requested.

    The first round of dollars will only go to people with severe damage, without insurance, who live outside flood plains that require insurance, with low-to-moderate income and who are 62 or older or disabled.

    All of the aforementioned criteria must be met, leaving roughly 4,000 people initially eligible for flood aid, underscoring the drastic costs associated with flooding that damaged or destroyed more than 100,000 homes.

    “When that flood came down … it did not say you had to be 62 years old to flood your home,” said Lee, an East Baton Rouge Parish School Board member, drawing cheers from a crowd who repeatedly voiced frustration with the prioritization criteria. “That flood did not discriminate. … We are desperate.”

    Pat Forbes, director of the state Office of Community Development, acknowledged the current dollars are not enough, explaining that federal regulations dictate how the money is spent. The lengthy public comment period at Monday’s meeting, he added, will help decide what changes should be made to the state’s action plan for flood spending.

    When the next $1.2 billion is spent, it will help fix another 16,000 homes. Nearly all of the federal money so far is going to homeowner programs. A smaller portion will be spent on renters and economic development.

    The state estimates East Baton Rouge Parish took the most damage to business and labor productivity. The parish had $213 million in labor productivity lost, by far the highest of any parish that flooded. The next highest amount is $27 million in Livingston Parish.

    “One thing that didn’t work out in our favor was that this was during a presidential election and Congress is off,” said State Rep. Ted James, a Baton Rouge Democrat. “This is not enough money.”

    —Sam Karlin

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