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Gov. John Bel Edwards congratulates homeowner Kimberly Skelton, left, after he presented her with a check for $31,000, during his tour of the Homeowners Assistance Center at Celtic Media Center Wednesday. Edwards met with homeowners who are participating in the Restore Louisiana Homeowners Assistance Program and got to see a mockup structure displaying the exact materials and hardware mandated in the restoration projects. Watching, center, is a project manager Tim Lagudi.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Pat Forbes, a top state official behind Louisiana's 2016 flood recovery program, broke the bad news at meetings in late 2016 and early 2017.

Barring changing circumstances and additional money, he said, less than full funding from Congress meant the state had to focus on those most in need, and homeowners with flood insurance wouldn't be eligible for the federally funded recovery program.

"The household has to not have had flood insurance," Forbes said during a meeting in late December in Gonzales about the state's plan to spend the first $438 million of the federal grant money.

But officials with the Restore Louisiana Program said Friday that message is now changing and could change even more if homeowners who flooded take 10 to 15 minutes to fill out surveys tied to the program. 

For the first time, a handful of the most needy homeowners who had flood insurance have become eligible for the now nearly $1.7 billion state grant program after additional appropriations from Congress.

An amendment approved by the state last month and awaiting federal backing has opened the door to some homeowners with flood insurance, Restore Louisiana Program officials said Friday.

Nick Speyrer, Restore Louisiana Program outreach manager, said shifts like that underscore the need for every homeowner affected by the floods in March and August 2016 to fill out surveys for the new recovery program, even if they aren't currently eligible or are finished with their home repairs.

Speyrer said the surveys, the first step in the application process, aid state officials in determining what the need is and in seeking more money from Congress that may end up benefiting households that aren't currently eligible or are looking for reimbursement of finished repairs. 

"Our biggest challenge right now," Speyrer said, "is those individuals with flood insurance thinking they're not going to qualify for assistance because we don't have the money today. But those are the people we really need to apply to help build a case long term."

To that end, the Restore Louisiana Program is planning a three-day outreach program next week, beginning 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Livingston Parish Library's South Branch, 23477 La. 444, Livingston.

Subsequent days are planned at the same times Wednesday at the Greenwell Springs library branch, 11300 Greenwell Springs Road, Baton Rouge, and Thursday in Ascension Parish at St. Amant High School Cafetorium, 12035 La. 431, St. Amant, program officials said in a statement

Speyrer said that during the outreach events, about eight to 10 workers will be available to help people fill out the 15-question survey and answer other inquiries about the program.

Over the last month, the program has set up housing assistance centers in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Lafayette and Monroe where residents can fill out surveys; applications for aid; and continue to meet with workers for help with their restoration work.

The program has already begun putting money into the pockets of some of the first applicants, Speyrer said. 

Restore Louisiana officials said the large number of Baton Rouge-area households affected by the August floods and the high volume of people who have already walked in to the Baton Rouge housing assistance center prompted the plan for the outreach events.

About 27,000 people have filled out surveys so far statewide, but state officials said that represents about a quarter of the households the Federal Emergency Management Agency verified as having a loss from one of the two floods.

Speyrer said the state wants all 86,000 households with a "FEMA verified loss" to fill out surveys.

The verified loss total represents only some of the total number of households damaged from the March and August floods. State officials consider the best number it has of households affected by the two floods is 190,000, which FEMA said is the number of households that applied for individual assistance last year. 

The Restore Louisiana Program is being funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The aid program has been broken up into six priority levels, or phases, with the first phase having the highest priority on funding.

Forbes said Friday that insurance change applies to the first phase only and is estimated to affect about 625 households. The first phase applies to households outside the most flood prone areas — the 100-year floodplain — that are also low to moderate income and have someone in the home who is elderly or disabled.  

Other phases have no income requirements but break up eligibility on whether applicants are in the hardest hit parishes — the Baton Rouge area is among them — and whether they are inside or outside the 100-year floodplain. The 100-year floodplain is an area that floods during events with a 1 percent or greater chance of happening in a given year.  

Homeowners who can't attend an outreach event can complete the survey online at http://www.restore.la.gov or speak to a representative by telephone 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday at (866) 735‐2001.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.