Louisiana's U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy will meet with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Secretary Ben Carson later this week to discuss HUD’s inaction on what's become known as the "duplication of benefits" trap that is blocking federal aid from reaching thousands of flood victims in Louisiana.
Cassidy told reporters Monday that he’s hoping the face-to-face meeting with Carson will “turn up the heat” on the Trump administration to act on delays that have prevented people whose homes flooded in 2016 from tapping into federal assistance if they sought SBA loans.
“It can’t happen too quickly for those families trying to put their lives back together,” said Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
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Cassidy and other members of the Louisiana delegation spearheaded efforts last fall to eliminate a requirement that loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration count against Restore Louisiana grants, but months later HUD hasn't yet released federal guidance required for the state to begin distributing money to newly-eligible homeowners.
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At the U.S. Capitol, Cassidy and Kennedy, R-Madisonville, have also used a parliamentary tactic to try to get the federal government's attention by holding up the Trump administration’s HUD nominees.
“We’re trying to get answers about these delays," Cassidy said.
An estimated 6,000 Louisiana residents who took out or applied for loans from SBA could be affected by the change.
HUD most recently was expected to provide the guidance that would pave the way for the release of funds by the end of March, but officials already have said it’s unlikely that deadline will be met.
“We’re going to attempt to focus (Carson's) attention on the fact that there have been repeated missed deadlines," Cassidy said.
In previous disasters, affected homeowners who sought SBA loans could not 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.
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.
“This (HUD meeting) will be to tell the secretary, ‘This has gotta happen. It’s gotta happen soon,’” Cassidy said.