A federal law could delay the start of repairs to homes damaged in the 2016 floods – even stop those already underway – if the rehabilitations are being paid for by much of that recovery money Louisiana officials are hustling around Washington to get.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is coming up with wording that could exempt Louisiana homeowners from the long-held federal policy. Failing that, the state is developing procedures that could circumvent the delay.

Once a flood victim applies for the federal dollars being administered by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, an environmental inspection is required before work can begin and that can take up to 45 days. Failure to wait for the inspection could cost the homeowner the HUD money.

“We want homeowners to rebuild,” Patrick Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development told The Advocate Friday.

“Once a person expects to receive federal funds, they are not allowed to proceed with their work without an environmental review, which can take up to 45 days,” Forbes said.

“I think everybody can agree that telling people to quit working on their home is the last thing any of us wants to do for our recovery.”

His office, which handles the federal money in Louisiana, has a plan.

“We are taking steps to make sure that it is minimized if not eliminated until we can get the relief the governor is seeking from Congress and HUD,” Forbes said at Friday’s meeting of the Restore Louisiana Task Force, which is tasked to oversee the rebuilding process from the March floods in north Louisiana and the August floods in the south.

The key is in the timing. The application triggers the need for an inspection. But any work done up to the time of the formal application is covered.

When the first federal money becomes available in May, his office will begin the process by requiring homeowners to take a 30-minute survey that will include their disaster assistance number issued by the Federal Emergency Management Administration and information about the damage as well as other resources. The link to FEMA will keep homeowners from having to duplicate a lot of the data necessary.

The survey will allow the state to start gathering and organizing the information in preparation for the official application.

State officials will ask the 36,510 homeowners they think will qualify for the initial federal grants to fill out a survey online and keep on rebuilding, he said.

“It’s a survey, not an application, because an application triggers the need for an environmental survey,” Forbes said, adding that he hopes to roll out the disaster assistance plan in six phases, starting first with the low income, elderly and the disabled. Then the state will expand to include others.

The task force overseeing how the state will spend federal money for the recovery from last …

HUD last week signed off on the state’s plan for how to spend the first $438 million. The state secured $1.2 billion more in aid in December and is working on an action plan that will allow the federal government to release those dollars.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wants President Donald Trump's help in getting another $2 bi…

Edwards was in Washington Friday – his seventh trip since the floods – seeking an additional $2.08 billion in aid.

He’s also talking with Louisiana’s congressional delegation to push for specific wording to be added to the legislation appropriating the federal dollars to exempt flood victims. The language would exempt owners of single family dwellings whose repairs don’t change the footprint of the house.

No matter how narrow the wording, winning the exemption may be tough. Usually federal disaster recovery proposals dictate that all agencies waive regulations – except for those dealing with employment, housing and the environment.

The inspections or rather the delays they cause provoked much criticism during the 2012 recovery of Hurricane Sandy in the north.

“We really need this help,” said Julie Baxter Payer, Edwards’ deputy chief of staff. “It could cause homeowners to stop construction while the environmental review is done and that is something we don’t want to contemplate,” Baxter Payer said.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.