The catastrophic floods that swept Louisiana last year — and the federal funding set aside to aid the state's recovery — became a topic during Thursday's confirmation hearing for Housing & Urban Development Secretary nominee Ben Carson.
U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, a Madisonville Republican, brought up the nearly $1.7 billion that Congress has dedicated to flood recovery efforts in Louisiana in the form of semi-flexible HUD grants.
State leaders are moving forward with a plan that would direct about $1.3 billion to help ho…
"We had a lot of people hurt. Badly," Kennedy told Carson. "Let's try to get the money into the hands of the folks for whom it has been appropriated."
While the money has been set aside for Louisiana, the state hasn't yet received it because of HUD's requirements for distributing funds — a scenario that Carson said he believes is common and vowed to change if confirmed.
Carson said he has been meeting with mayors who tell similar stories of having to wait for Community Development Block Grant funds to be approved.
"They appreciate the grant money but they have to jump thru too many hoops and there is too much red tape," said Carson, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for president last year.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, repeatedly has said that the state is following HUD's timeline for securing the flood recovery dollars that will largely be put into programs to rebuild or repair thousands of homes damaged by the floods.
Edwards and members of his administration have been pushing back against claims that the state is moving too slowly on its part.
"Our state is not slowing down the process in any way," Edwards told reporters in a recent update on the flood recovery. "The danger of misrepresenting Louisiana's role in the process could jeopardize the next appropriation that we know we need."
Edwards, who is asking Congress to approve an additional $2 billion for the recovery effort, again noted the federal timeline restrictions during a meeting with The Advocate editorial board on Wednesday.
Louisiana leaders are weighing three options for how the state will distribute funds to help…
"People's lives are upside down and the sooner you can get them rightside up, the better," he said.
Carson, who was nominated for the top HUD post by President-elect Donald Trump, has stressed during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Banking, Housing & Urban Development Committee that he wants to streamline such processes.
Louisiana received $437.8 million in September and another $1.2 billion in December.
After completing the required notices and public meetings, the state last week submitted its plan for the first round of funding. It's expected to make it to the state in the spring. HUD has until April to grant approval.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is planning at least two trips to Washington, D.C., next month.
The state currently is waiting on HUD to place a notice of the second appropriation into the federal register before it can submit a plan for that portion.
Carson said that he thinks that technology could be better used to eliminate waste and fraud, freeing up the process.
"I think we can really get a lot of bang for our bucks here," he said.
Kennedy, who took office this month after serving 16 years as state treasurer, said that he was told "off the record" by unnamed HUD officials that the state is lagging.
"They say it's the state's problem," Kennedy said in the hearing.
He didn't offer specifics or say whether he believes the state or HUD is responsible for moving the process more quickly.
"Frankly, I don't care who it is," Kennedy said. "I just want to figure out how to get that $1.6 billion to folks so that they can start rebuilding their lives."