Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration accused a Baton Rouge congressman Thursday of spreading myths about flood recovery money and leading a partisan effort that could harm Louisiana's long-term rebuilding.
The Democratic governor's office released a memo saying Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves "can no longer be trusted" to convey accurate information about Louisiana's recovery from last year's March and August flooding.
The memo, distributed by Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo, came a day after Edwards attended a congressional hearing in Washington, in which GOP members of Congress — including Graves — blasted Louisiana's response to the floods.
Tension over Louisiana's recovery from last year's catastrophic floods became the focus of a…
"In 2005, we watched as the political culture of Washington hurt Louisiana's response and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Today, we're at risk of that happening again," the governor's office memo said. "Yesterday, a small group of politicians in Washington, led by a member of our own delegation, conducted a distasteful ambush of Gov. Edwards using outright lies."
Among the many points of dispute between Edwards and Graves is whether Louisiana has been slow to spend $1.6 billion in federal block grant aid earmarked by Congress for recovery efforts, with most of the money planned for a homeowner repair and rebuilding program. The dollars are overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
"The state of Louisiana has federal funds at its disposal today that it could be distributing to flood victims if they had properly prepared," Graves said Thursday in an interview.
The Edwards administration hasn't yet hired a contractor to manage the housing aid program. Graves said he recommended to the governor shortly after the flood to quickly select such a contractor.
Carbo said Graves' information is inaccurate and the federal government hasn't yet released the money to the state to spend. The line of credit "has not yet been set up," Carbo said.
To support the congressman's position, Graves' office supplied an email from a staff person with the U.S. House Appropriations Committee who described getting information from HUD that the "funds should be available" for the state to access Thursday. The name of the committee staff employee was redacted.
Edwards' office replied with a screenshot of Louisiana's view of the disaster reporting grant system HUD uses to issue lines of credit. The screenshot showed a zero balance listed in the state's account for flood recovery.
As for Wednesday's congressional hearing, Graves said he's repeatedly expressed private concerns to the governor about the slow pace of recovery and his suggestions have been ignored. The congressman said he can't properly make a case for Louisiana needing additional flood recovery aid when the state isn't dispersing the $1.6 billion approved by Congress.
"I have tried over and over again to try to be helpful, to try to be on the same page, to try to provide good advice," Graves said. "I recommended to him that he not come to the hearing."
Graves also has heavily criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency response to the flooding. He denied partisan politics had anything to do with his criticisms.
Carbo said Edwards was not going to skip a federal hearing on flood recovery.
"Anyone who knows this governor knows he's not afraid to stand up and fight for his constituents, and the congressman has been putting out outright lies to the citizens of this state about the recovery process," Carbo said.
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