Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Wednesday he wants to broaden Louisiana’s flood aid program to include homeowners whose flood insurance proceeds didn’t cover their rebuilding costs and to boost grant amounts.
Initial limits setting homeowner eligibility for the rebuilding aid granted by Congress after the March and August 2016 floods were set based on concerns Louisiana wouldn’t have enough money to help everyone with damage.
Of those with flood insurance, only a limited number of elderly and disabled, low- to moderate-income homeowners have been eligible for the rebuilding aid through the $1.3 billion program so far. But Edwards said as grants have been awarded, the state determined it can widen eligibility to include all homeowners with flood insurance who still have an unmet need.
“I want to make certain that the program is made available to help as many homeowners as we can,” the Democratic governor said in a statement.
About $16 million in grants have been awarded to more than 550 homeowners so far.
Edwards’ proposal also includes increasing grant sizes to homeowners without flood insurance who already were eligible to receive aid to help them pay for needed construction work or to partially reimburse them for work already done.
The announcement comes as the Edwards administration has had trouble getting some flood victims to fill out the survey that is the first step for receiving homeowner aid. The Restore Louisiana program is emailing, sending text messages, running ads, hosting outreach events and going door-to-door to track down homeowners with flood damage.
The state’s recovery task force, set up by Edwards, will consider the governor’s proposal Friday. The changes are expected to be approved. Some also will require backing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, known as HUD, which oversees the federal block grant dollars paying for the homeowner program.
It was unclear how many more people will be eligible under the changes outlined. An estimated 37,000 people were expected to receive aid under the prior eligibility standards, all with major or severe flood damage. Edwards’ office said the changes “could benefit thousands of homeowners.” More than 100,000 homes were estimated to have been damaged by the floods.
Edwards’ proposal comes the same week he met with HUD Secretary Ben Carson in Louisiana to discuss flood recovery efforts and see ongoing repair work. The governor is seeking federal regulatory changes governing the rebuilding process.
Chief among Edwards’ requests is asking HUD to eliminate a federal prohibition that has kept some homeowners who qualified for Small Business Administration loans after the floods from receiving benefits from the state-run homeowner assistance program.
Under federal rules, homeowners who were approved for the SBA loans – whether they used the loans or not – can’t receive additional federal aid such as through the homeowner program if it is deemed a “duplication of benefits.” Flood victims were encouraged to apply for SBA loans, and they didn’t realize it could harm their ability to receive grant aid later.
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