About 14 months after historic floods swept across the state, Louisiana has doled out about $42.2 million of the $1.3 billion in federal funding the state has received to help homeowners rebuild and repair their flood-damaged homes.
"We know that recovery is never fast enough. For people still out of their house it's impossible for us to go fast enough," Pat Forbes, the head of the Office of Community Development, told a panel of state House members on Wednesday. "We're moving faster than folks have before, and we continue to speed that at every possible step."
The hearing at the State Capitol offered legislators the latest update on the state's flood recovery, as well as efforts to improve the state's disaster management efforts.
More than 44,500 homeowners have applied for the federally-funded grant program, and more than 85 percent of the applicants have qualified for aid. About 1,800 have received assistance so far, as the state continues to roll out the program, which includes reimbursements for homeowners who have already completed repairs.
Forbes said that the state continues to ramp up the program, so it's not at its full pace.
The state is still seeking an additional $2 billion that leaders say is needed to complete recovery efforts, including nearly $600 million that the state has been seeking for infrastructure upgrades to mitigate future flooding issues.
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It's unclear, particularly in light of widespread damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria this year, how much additional money, if any, the state should expect.
Forbes said Louisiana also is still seeking an exemption from rules that have restricted homeowners who received Small Business Administration loans from reaping the full benefits of the program. Currently, they are ineligible for funds that would "duplicate" their SBA loan award amount. Under HUD restrictions, it would likely take Congressional action for that to change.
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"We've been asking for this for a year now ... It's ludicrous," Forbes said. "We've continued to fight that."
During Wednesday's hearing, legislators also heard from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Louisiana National Guard and the Department of Transportation and Development, all of which have been conducting reviews of their efforts responding to the floods.
Louisiana's Shelter at Home program, which offered homeowners bare-bones and temporary repairs meant to get them back into their houses, received mixed reviews here, but GOHSEP director Jim Waskom said that it's serving as a model for efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, where a GOHSEP deputy is currently to help develop a similar program.
"The beauty of this program is its quickness," Waskom said. "FEMA likes it and the other states like it so, I think it's now going to be a program."
Kimberly Poorbaugh, who is working on GOHSEP's efforts, said that meetings with volunteer organizations have been ongoing as the state looks for ways to improve its disaster response.
"We can do a lot to improve the foundation and maintenance of our public-private partnerships," she said.