‘Common sense prevailed’: La. lawmakers, officials praise federal flood recovery fix

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Many Louisiana homeowners ineligible for recovery funds after the 2016 floods are closer to accessing long-desired aid, state officeholders lauded Thursday.

Officials with the Restore Louisiana program praised Congress’ vote this week to dislodge a “duplication of benefits” penalty that disqualified roughly 6,000 homeowners from flood recovery grants.

“Finally, common sense prevailed,” said Nick Speyrer, outreach manager for Restore Louisiana. “I think it’s great news for thousands of Louisianans.”

Immediately after the August 2016 floods, FEMA officials told Louisiana residents that low-interest Small Business Administration loans could help with repairs. Many applicants took out the loans not realizing that doing so would block them from getting Restore Louisiana grants.

“A homeowner should not be penalized for doing the responsible thing by applying for an SBA loan, to speed up the recovery effort,” Speyrer said.

The Senate passed the fix Wednesday in a 93-6 vote, following similarly widespread support in the House last week.

The Louisiana delegation on Capitol Hill — as well as Gov. John Bel Edwards — had sought a fix for some two years. Aiming to bolster chances of passage, lawmakers wrapped the fix into the same legislative package meant to keep planes flying. The legislation re-authorizes the Federal Aviation Administration and gives $1.7 billion to the Carolinas, hit hard by Hurricane Florence last month.

“I’m happy families will have what they need to complete their recovery,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) said in a statement. “We can’t do away with the flood, but we can do everything we can to get those families back to the way they were before the flood.”

The change now goes to President Trump for a signature. Edwards anticipates White House support.

“If and when that happens — and we’re optimistic — you’re going to see us move forward very quickly with the Restore program, to make sure those homeowners are receiving the community development block grant funding that they had been denied thus far,” the governor told reporters.

Expecting the bureaucratic adjustment to pass, Edwards reopened the Restore Louisiana application window last week. Homeowners have until Oct. 19 to complete an initial 15-minute survey and until Nov. 16 to apply.

So far, 54,330 residents have submitted Restore Louisiana homeowner surveys. The program has processed more than 38,400 applications. Officials have granted awards to roughly 14,430 residents totaling more than $491 million.

Residents can learn more about the homeowner assistance program by visiting Restore.LA.gov or calling 866-735-2001.

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