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Downtown Denham Springs is one of several sections of Livingston Parish which flooded in August 2016.

Louisiana officials are hoping that a meeting next week will be the final push needed to break through the federal government logjam that has kept thousands of Louisiana homeowners from tapping into recovery aid since catastrophic floods swept the state in 2016.

“I feel fairly optimistic about the meeting, but up here you never know,” U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, said of his and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s meeting with the heads of the Office of Management and Budget, Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration next week, as they work to usher the new “duplication of benefits” fix into action.

If that doesn’t work, Kennedy says he’s already requested a face-to-face meeting to take the issue directly to President Donald Trump.

“I’m tired of seeing my people being screwed around,” Kennedy told reporters Wednesday.

Kennedy and Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, met with HUD Secretary Ben Carson on March 14 to try to address hang-ups that have prevented people whose homes flooded in 2016 from tapping into federal grant assistance if they sought SBA loans. Both came away with positive comments from the meeting, but HUD still needs to issue a rule directing the release of Restore Louisiana funds to people who applied for SBA loans.

It remains unclear when residents will be able to access the funds. An estimated 6,000 Louisiana residents who took out or applied for loans from SBA could be affected by the change.

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

Members of the Louisiana delegation spearheaded efforts last fall to eliminate the requirement that SBA loans count against Restore Louisiana grants, but months later HUD hasn't yet released federal guidance that will allow the state to begin distributing money to newly-eligible homeowners.

Trump signed those changes in the federal Stafford Act into law in October.

“We crafted the language, it was passed by both houses and signed by the president,” Kennedy said. “It’s the law.”

One Denham Springs couple, fed up with the delays, earlier this month filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the issue.

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 only be eligible for $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 a 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.

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

Cassidy and Kennedy recently resorted to a parliamentary tactic to try to get the federal government's attention to the issue by holding up the Trump administration’s HUD nominees. They have promised to lift the hold if HUD acts.

Kennedy said there has been a series of excuses and finger-pointing between government entities that as needlessly complicated the issue.

“All I know is the money is there, it’s not doing anybody any good being in the bank, except the banks,” he said. “I think it’s clear.”


Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.