Day4FloodingAerials bf 1275.jpg

Aerials of severe weather flooding in East Baton Rouge Parish near Redemptorist High School, upper right, east of Plank Road and south of Hollywood Street on Monday August 15, 2016. Looking northwest.

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG

Louisiana leaders are hoping that by the end of this month, the state will have an additional $2 billion in federal aid for the state's recovery from last year's historic floods.

U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy on Wednesday pressed the Trump administration for additional support, asking Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney to include a disaster funding component in a coming budget measure.

The federal government is currently operating under a stopgap spending measure that runs out April 28. Congress is weighing an extension that would fund the government through the end of the budget cycle in September.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who traveled to Washington, D.C. earlier this month, said in a recent meeting with The Advocate editorial board that he has confidence that President Donald Trump's administration understands the continued need for recovery assistance.

The state has already received nearly $1.65 billion from Congress, but officials say that billions more is still needed to cover the recovery effort. 

"We feel very good that the money is coming," Edwards said. "HUD agrees with us that just on the housing piece alone there is a need for an additional $1 billion."

Specifically, Kennedy and Cassidy have asked Mulvaney for $2 billion in disaster aid that officials say is needed to complete flood recovery efforts ($1 billion for the aformentioned housing component); an additional $296 million in aid in response to a tornado that struck NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans earlier this year; Small Business Administration loan forgiveness for homeowners who took out disaster loans following the floods; permission for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to waive certain environmental checks in the rebuilding process; and an easing of restrictions on schools that didn't have flood insurance.

“I do not want our families to lose their homes to foreclosure or our businesses to close because of these historic, unprecedented events," Kennedy, who serves on the powerful Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. "Nearly 200,000 families were impacted by last year’s floods. This was an epic event that requires the nation’s help. I will move Heaven and Earth to ensure that our Louisiana families and businesses receive the assistance they need in order to recover and thrive.”

The state estimates that some 20,000 people remain displaced. More than 84,000 homes were documented as being damaged or destroyed.

The Office of Management and Budget works with the president to develop budget proposals. Congress typically doesn't approve aid that doesn't make it into the administration's recommendations.

The bulk of the $1.65 billion in federal assistance already drawn down will go toward homeowner rebuilding programs that are expected to begin next month.

During a hearing at the State Capitol on Wednesday, Office of Community Development director Pat Forbes said that 14,000 homeowners have taken an online survey (Available at restore.la.gov) over the past week to get into the system for the rebuilding programs. Construction work is expected to begin next month.

The survey will remain available for several weeks, with a ramped-up outreach effort beginning soon, Forbes said. The program is not operated as first-come, first-serve.

Forbes stressed to quizzical legislators that the state has been moving as quickly as possible to get aid down to people affected by the floods, but pointed to the bureaucratic federal process needed to access funds. Two other states – Texas and West Virginia – that were also granted disaster aid at the same time as Louisiana haven't completed the formal request process that Louisiana finalized in January, Forbes said.

"Recovery can never, ever be fast enough by the families that are impacted by these floods," Forbes said. "If you're not back in your house right now, there's no reason to think anything is going fast."

The federal government requires that the state conduct environmental reviews on any property on which work is done with the nearly $1.7 billion in federal aid already secured. He said that the request for a waiver for that requirement, as Cassidy and Kennedy submitted, is one of the state's primary needs in the next round of funding. The state's previous request was denied, he said.

"There's never been a reluctance on our part to seek relief from this," he said. "It's extremely expensive and time consuming, and in this case ridiculous."

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.