U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy pleaded with flood-affected constituents at a pair of town hall meetings Friday to fill out the state's relief survey, even if they don't qualify for additional federal aid.
He said documenting the needs through filling out the surveys is a critical step in helping Louisiana get additional federal flood relief dollars.
A few speakers at Cassidy's town hall forums at a Baton Rouge church and the Central Branch Library sought to raise the issue of plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But Cassidy kept his remarks general on Friday, broadly saying he supports a patient-focused system that will keep costs down.
Cassidy and other Republican lawmakers faced intense, confrontational opposition at public meetings several months ago. But Friday's crowds were more subdued with a few exceptions. At Living Faith Christian Center on Winbourne Avenue, one man yelled that changes that have been proposed to the federal healthcare system amount to stepping on the necks of the sick.
Cassidy and representatives from the state and federal government kept the discussions focused on flood recovery efforts and where they have fallen short.
Flood victims complained to the senator that they've had trouble accessing rebuilding funds, especially if they have received loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA provides loans that must be repaid rather than outright assistance.
Pat Forbes, head of Louisiana's Office of Community Development, which is overseeing distribution of flood aid, said his office has asked federal officials repeatedly to address that issue.
Forbes and Cassidy told attendees that several agencies are offering help to residents who feel they've been shortchanged on their flood aid.
The law schools of Southern University and LSU have both dedicated staff to flood issues, as have the nonprofit Louisiana Appleseed and the Louisiana Department of Insurance.
Meanwhile, they urged flooded constituents to fill out the survey at restore.la.gov. The survey enrolls property owners in the state's federally-funded recovery program, though the roll-out has taken more time than some would like.
"This recovery takes longer than anybody likes," Forbes said, adding that he considers the process more a marathon than a sprint. He said he wasn't shocked to learn that one speaker hasn't gotten a response on her application.
Meanwhile, Central councilman Wayne Messina questioned the senator on the status of the Comite River Diversion Canal, for which local residents have paid a property tax for over a decade.
"We, the people of Central, have been paying a millage. ... We need someone to walk into President Trump's office" and demand the canal be built, Messina said.
Cassidy responded jovially.
"What would next morning's tweet look like?" he asked.
As a practical matter, Cassidy said, federal infrastructure projects must go through a cost- benefit analysis and the problem with the diversion canal is that the analysis that was done is outdated.
When it was completed, Cassidy said, Prairieville was still mostly prairie, and a lot fewer people were living in Denham Springs, Central and Zachary. Getting the cost-benefit analysis updated will be crucial to getting the canal built, he said.
Another attendee asked Cassidy about the impact the Interstate 12 barrier had on flooding in the region.
Local agencies, such as the city of Walker, have sued the state over the road divider, which they argue worsened flooding by creating an artificial dam.