More than 5,400 people whose homes were damaged by the catastrophic flooding that swept across south Louisiana this month have applied to take part in the state's new "Shelter at Home" program.
It's unclear how many of them will qualify for the home repair effort, which was unveiled last week as a key component of the state's plan for addressing the needs of thousands of flood victims who have been displaced from their homes. But Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration expressed optimism about the first day's application haul.
"We expected a lot of interest in this program," Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said. "We want people to be able to get back into their homes, and this is the program to get them in there as quickly as possible."
Through Shelter at Home, homeowners can get up to $15,000 worth of basic repairs to get them back into their houses. It comes at no cost to the homeowners.
Under the current state and federal disaster funding level, the state will pay 25 percent and the federal government will pay 75 percent of the costs of the program, but Edwards and Louisiana's congressional delegation has asked that the federal government take on a larger share of the disaster recovery costs, which would extend to Shelter At Home if its approved.
The goal is to get homes into a livable state, so people can stay there while they make more permanent repairs on their own dime – lessening the demand for other temporary housing options. It's not meant to be a permanent rebuilding program.
The state has hired AECOM to serve as the project manager. Carbo said inspectors were on the ground Monday to begin the initial stages of the work.
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The program is separate from other aid efforts, such as assistance from FEMA or the Small Business Administration and requires a separate application process. The website, shelterathome.la.gov, and phone line, 1-800-927-0216, went live Monday morning.
Shelter at Home only covers minor repair work: basic electrical and plumbing inspections; carpet and insulation removal; air conditioning and hot water heater repairs; and installing temporary bathroom fixtures, are among the types of tasks that will be done to get people back into their homes. The program will also pay for mini-refrigerators or microwaves to be installed.
The Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness estimates that many as 160,000 homes have been affected by the flood. Already, more than 120,000 households have applied for federal disaster assistance.
About 1,521 people remained in shelters Monday – 825 at the Baton Rouge River Center, 193 at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Ascension, more than 190 at shelters in Livingston, and 30 people at the Heymann Center in Lafayette.
On Monday, Edwards and the state's congressional delegation met to discuss flood recovery efforts, including a possible federal aid package.
Edwards and members of the delegation described the meeting as productive but said it remained early in the process so no formal decisions were made.
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"As thousands of families begin to recover from the devastating flooding across south Louisiana, it is our first priority to make sure that the necessary resources are available to those who are rebuilding from the great flood of 2016," the Republican members of the Congressional delegation said in a joint statement. "We had a productive meeting with Gov. Edwards this afternoon to discuss the response to the flooding and how our delegation can work with the state to recover from this disaster. As we await the official damage assessment, we will continue today’s productive dialogue to ensure that our state emerges from this disaster stronger than ever.”
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, said that the delegation is united in support of the federal government to pick up a larger share of the recovery expenses. Officials have requested that the federal share be bumped from 75 percent to 90 percent.
“Our discussion with the governor was a continuation of our unity in our request for FEMA to increase the cost-share structure between the agency and the state to a 90 percent-10 percent ratio," Cassidy said. “We are fortunate that this delegation brings relationships with the Freedom Caucus, a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee, a position in House leadership, experience with water mitigation, as well as a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Those that directly represent those affected share the responsibility to make sure that Louisianans have the resources they need to rebuild, recover and prosper.”