Louisiana leaders are ramping up flood recovery programs this month to help homeowners rebuild, assist small business owners and add to the rental housing stock in the wake of last year's historic floods.
"I'm glad to say that numerous notable developments have happened," Jacqui Vines Wyatt, who co-chairs the state's recovery task force, said the Restore Louisiana Task Force meeting on Friday. "Meaningful strides have been made."
Environmental reviews are underway, outreach efforts are planned and applications are being taken as the state establishes programs that will be funded by the nearly $1.7 billion in flood aid the state has received.
Nearly nine months after floodwaters washed across south Louisiana and more than a year after north Louisiana flooding, state officials say that this month will mark the start of large-scale rebuilding efforts.
To get the word out about assistance that's available to people affected by last year's hist…
"We've been as expeditious as we can in getting this going," Wyatt said.
The state is launching three homeowner programs: One that will send selected contractors to work on people's homes; one that will let homeowners pick their own contractors who are paid by the state; and a reimbursement program for people who have already paid for home improvements on their own.
A pilot program of about 58 homes will launch this month. Two weeks later, the program will be rolled out to homeowners who meet the phase one criteria, meaning they have major or severe damage, didn't have flood insurance and lived outside the flood plain, meet the low-to-moderate income requirements and have an elderly or disabled person in their home.
From there, the programs will be rolled out to additional phases with less stringent criteria.
The state will be hosting a series of events this month to help flood-affected homeowners co…
"We have a limited amount of funding and are prioritizing the most vulnerable who have the most need right now," Wyatt said.
The state also is launching a small business loan program to help flood-affected business owners and a rental program to increase the rental housing stock.
"We want to get the most units we can," said Pat Forbes, who heads the state Office of Community Development. "We're going to fund the programs that give us the most bang for our buck."
People who sought assistance from FEMA following the flood are being reached out to via email. About 35,000 emails have already gone out. Another 30,000 or so are expected to go out in the coming days.
The state is also launching television and radio public service announcements to encourage people to take the initial survey at restore.la.gov to get into the state's system for tracking programs. Notable figures, including LSU coach Ed Orgeron, have been enlisted to help spread the word.
The $1 trillion federal spending plan that President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday …
State leaders also are expected to be making appearances at various town halls across the state.
About 19,000 people have filled out the initial survey so far.
"We know that about 86,000 homeowners have FEMA verified loss from the floods," Wyatt said.
Louisiana was seeking $2 billion more in federal flood aid to further expand the recovery programs, but instead will receive only a portion of the $400 million that Congress set aside for disaster assistance this month. The money will be divvied up among several states that are recovering from natural disasters. Gov. John Bel Edwards and members of the state's Congressional delegation have voiced concerns over the lower dollar amount, but said they will continue to seek funding as legislation comes up.
"We still have unmet needs – a lot of needs in Louisiana," said Erin Monroe Wesley, special counsel to Edwards.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, sent a letter to the Trump administration this week expressing "shock and disappointment" over the amount of money his state received for its continued recovery from Hurricane Matthew last year. North Carolina is set to receive about $6.1 million, which is less than one percent of the nearly $1 billion that state had requested.
"Our citizens and communities are struggling, and will only be able to make a full recovery with the aid of much needed federal assistance," Cooper wrote in his letter. "Many affected North Carolinians feel that they have been forgotten, and though the flood waters may have receded, I refuse to let their needs go unmet."