WASHINGTON — Legislation that will give thousands of 2016 Louisiana flood-hit homeowners who took out low-interest loans access to grants is headed to President Donald Trump’s desk.
The sprawling legislative package, which also overhauls other federal disaster policies to ease recovery for local governments, includes funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and $1.7 billion to rebuild parts of the Carolinas hit by Hurricane Florence.
The legislative package passed the Senate overwhelmingly Wednesday, 93 to 6, after members of the U.S. House of Representatives approved it on an equally lopsided vote last week. Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.
Wednesday's vote culminated more than two years of efforts by Louisiana lawmakers on Capitol Hill to change a handful of federal disaster policies that had frustrated 2016 flood victims and posed headaches for local governments.
Among the bill’s provisions are changes to federal law that would allow flooded homeowners who applied for loans from the Small Business Administration to also receive grants from the Restore Louisiana recovery program.
WASHINGTON — An overhaul of federal disaster policies, including provisions directly affecting homeowners and local governments hit by the 201…
Uninsured school districts hit by the 2016 floods will be in line potentially to receive millions more in federal disaster aid because the bill sharply reduces a penalty for not carrying flood coverage. The bill further gives FEMA clearer guidance over whether to pay for damage to submerged roads after floods.
The bill also sets up an independent arbitration process for local governments to dispute FEMA payout decisions and gives non-profit relief organizations — such as food banks and religious groups — more access to federal funding.
The disaster overhaul has been in the works for more than two years, ever since record-breaking rains unleashed flooding across much of the capital region in August 2016. Floods also struck north Louisiana in March of that year.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, authored a number of the provisions and was joined on several by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans.
“This is one of the most significant disaster recovery and preparedness bills to pass Congress in decades and we will be a more resilient country because of it,” said Graves. The congressman said other tweaks in the package will push flood-hit communities to rebuild in ways that'll help protect against future storms.
The House passed bills including the language several previous times before senators finally signed off on the package as part of Wednesday’s federal aviation vote.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, lobbied colleagues for months on the issue. Cassidy said some lawmakers resisted because they feared the changes might spur greater federal spending in the wake of floods and other disasters.
WASHINGTON — Thousands of Louisiana flood victims who borrowed money from the Small Business Administration could soon have clearer access to …
The so-called “duplication of benefits” issue has been particularly frustrating for more than 6,000 Louisiana homeowners caught in the bureaucratic snag.
They were encouraged by FEMA to take out low-interest loans from the SBA — only to find that federal officials later counted those loans against any potential Restore Louisiana grant money under regulations designed to prevent disaster victims from getting paid twice for the same damage.
That left flood-hit homeowners saddled with decades of loan payments when they’d otherwise have qualified for rebuilding grants in the same amount.
State officials previously estimated that Louisiana households would receive roughly $215 million more in Restore grants to pay off SBA loans or repair homes with the change in federal policy.
“Folks were punished for being responsible, doing the right thing. This bill fixes that and I'm proud to say it'll be signed into law,” Cassidy said in a press release.
Fellow Louisiana GOP Sen. John Kennedy, who credited Cassidy with pushing the changes through the Senate, joined in voting for the package and said in a statement he hoped the duplication of benefits fix would offer relief to thousands of still-recovering families and that school systems could now "focus on students, not on battling bureaucracy."
Gov. John Bel Edwards, anticipating Wednesday’s Senate vote to pass those changes into law, ordered the application process for the Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program reopened and the deadline to apply extended until Nov. 16.
“This has been a long time coming. In the earliest days of our recovery, my administration began to sound the alarm on this ridiculous federal regulation,” said Edwards. “As soon as President Trump signs the bill into law, we will submit the necessary waiver and await guidance from" the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the grant program.
It’s unclear when President Donald Trump will sign the package and how quickly federal officials overseeing the program will update rules and regulations in light of the new law.