Flood aid fix? Louisiana senators expect ‘duplication of benefits’ clarity by mid-April

Local News

White House budget officials will decide within two weeks whether thousands of Louisiana flood victims will qualify for federal aid, the state’s two U.S. senators said Tuesday.

Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy plan to sit down with acting White House budget director Russ Vought by April 16. Their meeting will clarify whether homeowners who sought Small Business Administration loans after the 2016 floods are eligible for federally funded disaster grants.

“My people deserve an answer,” Kennedy told reporters Tuesday. “I’m tired of my people being screwed over by the bureaucracy here in Washington.”

“We’ve had multiple conversations, but the bureaucracy has a way of slowing you down,” Cassidy said.

Roughly 6,000 Louisiana residents have been blocked from grant funds, largely because federal officials suggested they apply for small business loans. A federal wrinkle has kept SBA applicants from getting grants that duplicated whatever loan amount they qualified for — whether they took the loan or not.

Congress moved to nix the “duplication of benefits” penalty in October, though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the White House Office of Management and Budget have yet to release guidance for distributing the grant dollars. Without the federal say-so, as many as $225 million in flood recovery funds remain untouched.

“The bureaucracy up here is a giant rogue beast,” Kennedy said. “It’s got power we used to only give to kings in medieval times.”

Whether Vought will apply the congressional fix to Louisiana flood victims at all remains unclear. White House budget officials worry that future flood-stricken homeowners won’t apply for SBA loans and will instead wait for grants, causing a spike in federal disaster costs.

“They certainly expressed reservations,” Cassidy said. “Hopefully they’ll come around to see this is how Congress intended the law.”

The state’s two Republican senators said if they don’t like what Vought tells them at their next meeting, they will request a meeting with President Donald Trump.

“The president has always shown a sympathy for the working person,” Cassidy said. “I’m hoping it doesn’t have to go to the president, but we’ll find out in two weeks.”

Both Cassidy and Kennedy intend to keep stalling the nominations of two HUD assistant secretary candidates until the Trump administration provides legal guidance. The senators have said the hold offers them leverage toward delivering more aid to their constituents.

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