WASHINGTON — Thousands of Louisiana homeowners who have been stuck in the duplication-of-benefits trap following the historic floods of 2016 will soon be eligible to seek federally-funded grants, after intense lobbying from the state's congressional delegation.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified Louisiana leaders this week that it will soon release guidelines for distributing Restore Louisiana funds to people who were previously blocked because they applied for Small Business Administration loans.
"Rules will be released in days, but I have received assurances from Secretary (Ben) Carson that if you took out an SBA loan you will be eligible to receive a Restore Louisiana grant and have the resources you need to recover,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Thursday. “We had thousands of people in Louisiana after the great flood of 2016 who were punished for being responsible and doing the right thing — that’s wrong.”
It’s been nearly seven months since the delegation, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican whose Baton Rouge district was heavily impacted by the August 2016 flooding, successfully ushered legislation allowing HUD to grant waivers that would remove the SBA loan barrier.
But it’s taken countless meetings with Carson, the HUD secretary, and other Trump administration officials, letters and public statements from Louisiana congressmen and senators to clear the logjam that has prevented people from being able to tap into those funds, despite the legislation President Donald Trump signed into law.
Graves said he’s grateful for this week’s update but frustrated it has taken so long for HUD to move forward.
“This is a perfect example of why people really hate the bureaucracy of the federal government,” he said. “There is no good excuse for these sorts of delays.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy says Louisiana could finally get a long-awaited update this week from the federal government on whether, a…
Louisiana received more than $1.7 billion from Congress for 2016 flood relief. About $1.3 billion was designated for homeowner rebuilding assistance. But the law that prevented people from receiving grant money that duplicated their SBA loan awards has kept an estimated 6,000 families from tapping into those funds.
In recent months, Cassidy and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, resorted to a procedural move to try to raise awareness by holding up the Trump administration’s HUD nominees. They promised to lift the hold once HUD acted on the duplication-of-benefits issue.
Kennedy even brought the issue directly to Trump in early April during a private lunch meeting on an unrelated topic. Kennedy wouldn't say at the time where Trump stood on the issue, but strongly hinted the president could be willing to intervene on Louisiana's behalf.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy brought the "duplication of benefits" trap, which has kept thousands of homeowners affected by historic flooding in 201…
On Thursday, Kennedy credited the president's intervention for ultimately succeeding in addressing the problem.
"(Trump) told me that he would resolve this, and he did,” Kennedy said. “Duplication of benefits was a huge hurdle for many families as they struggled to rebuild. Louisianans are resilient, but they’ll be made even stronger by getting the disaster relief they were promised.”
It’s unclear when homeowners will be able to access the funds. According to Cassidy’s office, more details will appear in guidelines that HUD will issue.
Thousands of Louisiana residents who were affected by severe floods in 2016 and remain in a "duplication of benefits" trap likely won’t see a …
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said his administration, through the Restore Louisiana program, will immediately begin updating grant awards, contacting homeowners and distributing funds as soon as official guidance is received from HUD.
"This is a momentous announcement for thousands of Restore Louisiana applicants who have been waiting since the aftermath of the 2016 floods for a fix to the previous federal policy," Edwards said. "I want to sincerely thank President Trump, his administration, and our congressional delegation for their partnership and hard-fought efforts to enable the release of these funds and bring about real, positive results for homeowners working to recover from the 2016 floods.”
Louisiana officials are hoping that a meeting next week will be the final push needed to break through the federal government logjam that has …
Like with other HUD programs meant to benefit low- to middle-income households, priority will go to homeowners whose household income is less than 120 percent of the federally-defined area median income, which varies by parish. Those who make more than that will be able to apply for exemptions or partial awards.
Cassidy said Carson confirmed that grants can be used to pay off SBA loans people acquired.
As in previous disasters, affected homeowners who sought SBA loans were blocked from receiving 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 that wouldn'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 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 opportunity to waive that duplication rule will extend to other states and territories that have experienced disasters, including Texas, which saw hundreds of homes damaged in Hurricane Harvey, and Puerto Rico, where housing was decimated in Hurricane Maria.
Graves said the effort to pass the legislation included bringing in lawmakers from those other affected areas as allies.
“This isn’t just a Louisiana issue,” Graves said. “It’s become a national issue that has affected a lot of people.”
Graves said flood recovery, and more specifically the duplication-of-benefits matter, has consistently been at the top of issues his constituents voice to him. Congress returned this week from a two-week recess that allowed members to return to their home districts and meet with their constituents. Graves held several of those meetings during the break.
"The number of people who just have these devastating personal stories: This is really personal to a lot of people and meaning awful consequences for them," he said.