Day4FloodingAerials bf 1317.jpg

Aerials of severe weather flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish on Monday August 15, 2016. A National Guard vehicle turns west on Prescott Avenue off of N. Foster Drive. Looking south southeast.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG

Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration is putting the finishing touches on its plan for $1.2 billion the state will receive from Congress to aid its recovery from catastrophic floods, with the bulk of that money going to help restore thousands of homes that were damaged or destroyed.

Edwards is expected to outline the plan during a meeting Friday in Livingston Parish.

Additionally, the state's plan for an earlier $437.8 million round of funding – also largely going toward homeowner programs – will be submitted to the federal government for approval Friday. That plan was initially revealed in early December.

 

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Under the latest estimates, officials say home repair work could begin by April.

"It's a process that can be very frustrating to homeowners, and we know that," Edwards' Deputy Chief of Staff Julie Baxter Payer said Thursday. "It's frustrating to us."

It remains unclear when the application process will begin.

"There's no one who wants to begin opening up applications to homeowners sooner than we do," Payer said.

The pacing of funds has come under question by some affected by the floods and political leaders. Earlier this week, the state Republican Party released a statement criticizing Democrat Edwards over a perceived inaction on the money.

The administration, which released its first action plan in early December, has largely pointed to federal regulations over how money comes down through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The state has been holding public hearings over the past month, as required by HUD, on the plan that it will submit for the initial $437.8 million secured in a federal stopgap spending bill in September. The additional $1.2 billion came separately in a similar measure in December that will go through a separate approval process.

Officials have estimated that the state suffered as much as $8.7 billion in damage from the floods that hit south Louisiana in August and north Louisiana in the spring. Damage has been documented to more than 113,000 homes — a number that is expected to grow as the recovery continues.

Edwards, who has made several trips to Washington to lobby for flood aid, had requested more than $3.7 billion in additional funding. Payer reiterated Thursday that the governor will continue to seek additional federal recovery dollars.

"We don't have nearly enough money," she said.

A 21-member task force appointed by the governor agreed to the plan for the initial round of housing recovery programs. The elderly and disabled in heavily-impacted areas will get priority in the first wave, and additional money would be used to extend programs to others affected.

Officials say the first round will likely aid about 4,000 homeowners. Another $1 billion – on top of the $1.2 billion secured last month – would be needed just to meet all of the estimated housing needs.

"We've got to bring communities back," Payer said. "We've got to get houses rebuilt."

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, a Madisonville Republican who was sworn in on Tuesday, said he has spent his first week in Washington primarily discussing flood aid with his colleagues.

"I don't go into a meeting that I don't talk to my fellow senators about help for the flood," Kennedy said in an interview Thursday.

He said the first follow-up question lawmakers have for him is always about what the state has done so far with the $1.6 billion that has already been allocated.

"It's very, very hard to make that argument when the money hasn't made it to the people yet," Kennedy said. "We need to get the money to the people."

Kennedy met this week with President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Housing and Urban Development secretary, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

"I asked him to take a look at giving the state some more flexibility," Kennedy said. "I explained to him, from my point of view, the rigidity of some of the practices at HUD."

Edwards has been holding regular meetings with the state's Congressional delegation over the flood recovery efforts.

Kennedy said he has heard the governor's explanation of HUD requirements, but is hoping that more can be done to push the money through quicker.

"The people who were hurt by the storm don't care about that, they just want their money," Kennedy said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.