More than 15 months after Louisiana was promised some $1.2 billion in federal money for local flood mitigation projects, the state has yet to see a single dollar.
But members of the Congressional delegation, who helped secure the funding, have been assured the money is still coming this way and will be here soon.
“Any time you have money sitting around there will be efforts to redirect those funds but I don’t see any viable threat to them,” says U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who spearheaded efforts to secure the U.S Housing and Urban Development funds for Louisiana in early 2018.
Though it’s unclear exactly why it has taken so long to release the funds, the delay appears to have centered on HUD’s drafting of the rules that will govern how the money can be spent. Those rules, called a guidance document, were sent earlier this month to the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is now reviewing them, Graves says. Once OMB approves them, they should be released.
“It’s encouraging that it appears to be moving forward,” Graves says. “But you cannot condone these delays and this behavior. If these people worked for me, I would have fired them.”
While Louisiana has been waiting on the money, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has created a program called the Watershed Initiative to determine where the HUD dollars are most needed and which specific projects in the state’s seven watersheds should be tackled first.
Last December, the state issued a Request for Proposals for a program manager to oversee the projects. But five months later, neither of the teams that bid on the work has heard back and state officials decline to comment on the delays, citing a legally mandated—albeit, unusually lengthy—blackout period.
The Louisiana Congressional delegation is supposed to get an update from the Edwards’ administration later this month about the Watershed Initiative, but so far has little insight into what the state is planning to do or why it’s taking so long to award a key contract like that of the program manager.
Graves says whatever the reason, he hopes the state does a better job than it did in awarding the nearly $300 million contract to administer $1.6 billion in RestoreLA funds to victims of the August 2016 flood. That procurement process was marred by controversies and challenges that continue to this day.
“It’s ridiculous the amount of money these people are making to hand out money,” Graves says. “This needs to be a really efficient effort. Every dollar that goes to contractors is money that isn’t going to recovery and resilience.”