jbeshelter2.jpg

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, left, and First Lady Donna, center, speak with evacuees at a shelter in Alexandria Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by GRACE TOOHEY

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005, Louisiana had to rely on Mississippi to amplify its voice in Washington.

Our neighbor to the east simply had more clout back then. Its governor was Republican Haley Barbour, who was friendly with President George W. Bush, while Louisiana's was Democrat Kathleen Blanco, who was anything but a White House favorite. And it had a very well-positioned U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, who chaired the all-important Appropriations Committee. Louisiana got less than Mississippi on a proportional basis, but things could have been even worse without their help.

Now, with one monster hurricane having struck Texas and another aiming at Florida, history might be about to repeat itself. Louisiana still has needs from the epic 2016 floods, but they're sure to be overshadowed by the current disasters. On top of that, both Texas and Florida eclipse Louisiana in size and voting strength in Congress, and both have Republican governors.

That's not necessarily bad news when it comes to the state's post-disaster agenda, though. How to divvy up direct aid will likely remain contentious, but in other ways, Louisiana's needs are interchangeable with those of other hurricane-prone states.

One priority that could get a boost is Gov. John Bel Edwards' crusade to change a horribly unfair policy that bars residents who apply for Small Business Administration loans to rebuild their homes from using grant money to pay them off. The SBA loans are available much more quickly than grants, so the policy penalizes those who try to get back into their homes as soon as possible.

Edwards sent a letter to congressional leaders this week reiterating his request for a fix, but it wasn't included in the initial Harvey aid package. There will be plenty of future legislation, though, and as these other states work through the rebuilding process, their leaders too will surely see the wisdom of changing the rules.

The united front approach has proven effective in matters concerning the National Flood Insurance Program; GNO Inc. has been a leader in forming a coalition of states with similar experiences, including northeastern states hit by Sandy. The group has already been gearing up for the federal program's reauthorization, and Harvey and Irma will surely draw more focus to the looming fight.

Nobody who's been through a major disaster would wish that experience on anyone else, of course. But chalk this up as one of many lessons learned from Katrina and all that's happened since: there's strength in numbers.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.