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U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., speaks at a luncheon hosted by the Rotary Club of Greater Ascension at Lamar Dixon Expo Center, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019.

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy brought the "duplication of benefits" trap, which has kept thousands of homeowners affected by historic flooding in 2016, directly to President Donald Trump during a private lunch meeting on Friday.

“I made my case. I made my best arguments," Kennedy, R-Madisonville, said in a call with reporters after the meeting.

Kennedy wouldn't disclose where Trump stands on the issue, but strongly hinted that the president could intervene on Louisiana's behalf, opening up the Restore Louisiana program to people who have been denied because they previously applied for SBA loans.

“The president was very frank. He’s not scared to make a decision. I have a pretty good feeling about what he’s going to do,” Kennedy said. “That’s about as much as I feel comfortable saying.”

“I will say let’s declare victory when the first Louisianan gets a check," he added.

If the issue isn’t soon resolved, Kennedy said he is considering joining a lawsuit that has been filed against the federal government over the matter.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic that it’s not going to get to that,” he said.

Louisiana received more than $1.7 billion from Congress to aid recovery from the catastrophic 2016 floods. The bulk of the money, about $1.3 billion, has been designated to go toward homeowner rebuilding assistance, but a federal rule initially prevented those who received Small Business Administration loans from reaping the full benefits of the program.

Louisiana's congressional delegation, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican whose Baton Rouge-based district was heavily affected by the floods, got a law passed that would eliminate that rule, but the Trump administration's Office of Management and Budget still has not signed off on the change.

“Members of the bureaucracy have refused to implement the law as passed by the United States Congress,” Kennedy said.

As in previous disasters, affected homeowners who sought SBA loans have been unable to tap into grant dollars that duplicated whatever loan amount they were deemed eligible to receive — even if they never accepted the loan money.

For example, a homeowner with an estimated $25,000 in damage who qualified for a $20,000 SBA loan would be eligible for only $5,000 in grant money, which doesn’t have to be repaid. Meanwhile, a homeowner who took on the same value of damage — $25,000 — but didn’t apply for an SBA loan could potentially receive for the full $25,000 grant if all other qualifications were met. In many cases, SBA loan awards were larger than the value of total damage, leaving homeowners without an opportunity for any grant assistance.

“I’m tired of my people being screwed with,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy have had several meetings with key members of the Trump administration to try to loosen the bureaucratic chokehold in recent months.

Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, has described OMB’s reservations as being over whether the change could drive up future disaster recovery costs if people wait for grants, instead of seeking loans that they will repay.

Officials have repeatedly said the “duplication of benefits” issue has created the biggest problems for homeowners and spawned the most complaints about the state’s efforts to rebuild from the August 2016 floods in the Baton Rouge area and other parts of southern Louisiana and the March 2016 floods in north Louisiana.

It remains unclear when affected homeowners might be able to tap into the money.

OMB agreed to give the Louisiana senators an answer by Tuesday.

Kennedy said he was invited to the “one-on-one” meeting with Trump at the White House to discuss a wide range of topics, including trade with China, securing the southern border, the federal budget and the deficit, and he took the opportunity to prompt a discussion on the duplication of benefits issue. 

“He knew exactly what I was talking about, he knew the background,” Kennedy said. “He really does love Louisiana."

During the presidential campaign, Trump came to Louisiana to view the flood damage first-hand before then-President Barack Obama toured areas hit hardest by the floods. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, said she would also visit but never made the trip.

Trump received more than 58 percent of the vote in Louisiana and more individual votes than any other candidate in the state’s history. A month after winning the presidential election, Trump returned to Louisiana to rally for Kennedy’s campaign for the Senate.


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.