Louisiana lawmakers on Friday lambasted the state's temporary housing program enacted after Hurricane Ida, saying it continues to move too slowly to help people living in damaged homes and tents since late August.
"We're moving at a snail's pace. It's just unbelievable," said state Sen. Mike Fesi, a Houma Republican who represents Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, which were among the hardest hit by Ida.
The state has spent $90 million in federal disaster aid on more than 2,000 trailers to provide temporary shelter to residents in southeastern Louisiana. Half have been placed on residents' property and other community housing sites, and 653 families have moved into the trailers so far, the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness told lawmakers.
The program has received near-constant criticism about the time it's taking to place trailers since Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration launched the Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program on Oct. 4.
That critique spilled over into Friday's meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, as the homeland security agency asked lawmakers to approve $500 million in authority to spend federal disaster recovery aid. The committee agreed without objection to the request to keep money flowing for rebuilding needs, but only after peppering agency Director Casey Tingle with questions about hurricane response work.
Tingle defended the housing program, telling lawmakers: "We have a brand new program that's never been done before." He said that, by comparison, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has placed only 50 of its travel trailers for Ida victims so far.
Lawmakers were unsatisfied, with Republicans and Democrats urging better communication and a sense of urgency about the level of need remaining from the 2020 hurricanes and from Ida, which struck Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm.
The Edwards administration estimated nearly 13,000 households could need sheltering assistance because of Ida. After she heard the data about how many trailers have been distributed, Baton Rouge Democratic Sen. Regina Barrow said: "This is concerning to me."
The Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program is largely federally funded. Louisiana hired APTIM, an engineering and construction management firm, to run the program in a $9 million contract. The state-run program is supposed to dovetail with FEMA's temporary housing efforts in an attempt to speed up sheltering assistance for people to live near the homes they're trying to rebuild and repair.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican, criticized the pace of the temporary housing program. But he also had a broader complaint, saying the homeland security department has provided too little information to lawmakers about federal disaster recovery dollars.
"There's a lot of money out there. The problem I have is we don't know where these dollars are going," he said.
Tingle said the state is using the money to pay for debris removal, pumps removing water from areas that flooded during Ida and trailer purchases, among other items. Much of the money, he said, is reimbursement to local government agencies from FEMA for their recovery costs. FEMA sends the money to Tingle's agency, which then sends the reimbursement to the locals.