Congress on Thursday afternoon broke a partisan impasse that keeps the federal government operating for two more months and frees up $28.6 billion in aid, much of it headed to Louisiana to help storm survivors.

The disaster aid includes money for damage caused hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Zeta from last year as well as the February freeze plus what is being called a $2.7 billion down payment for Hurricane Ida from last month.

“Louisiana will finally get the disaster relief we need,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Thursday. “This is critical for our communities and people to rebuild their lives. It took too long, especially for those in southwest Louisiana, but getting this done is a huge win for our state.”

President Joe Biden will need to sign the bill into law, but that’s expected.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said that once he learns more about Louisiana’s share of the appropriation, the focus will be on housing.

He also noted that southwest Louisiana has been waiting for funding since last year. “It’s tragic that they’ve had to wait so long, but this federal assistance will help revitalize communities that have been struggling for a year now,” Edwards said.

The proposed amounts are both too little and too late, said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter, who called it “shameful” and a “pittance” considering the four weather disasters his city has endured.

While southwest Louisiana officials have pleaded for supplemental relief for months, making personal appeals to two different presidents and warning that the region will not be able to recover fully without it, Hunter was greeting the votes more with resignation than joy.

“At this point, I suppose we should just be happy for getting anything,” Hunter said Thursday. “But it really is a hard pill to swallow when you look at the lack of equity and the lack of fairness. And I suppose I should not be surprised by that at this point, but the amount of money that will eventually filter down to those who need it in southwest Louisiana is a pittance compared to the disaster relief packages that have come to other communities.”

He said the money likely will not be enough to address severe housing needs as well as school and local government rebuilding efforts. Meanwhile, he added, “there’s almost guaranteed to be no money for any type of economic revitalization.”

Lake Charles news in your inbox

Once a week we'll send you the top stories we find in the Lake Area

“A disaster relief bill of this kind might have been better received a year ago for the multiple federally declared disasters endured by Calcasieu Parish alone,” Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Brian Abshire said Thursday. “However, after this parish has patiently waited, having heard promises from two presidents that aid was coming, Washington politics has diluted the relief bill so much that the help we were hoping for, and that had been promised, is nowhere to be found. This feel-good bill makes no one but the federal politicians actually feel good and will do very little for Calcasieu Parish.”

Republican and Democratic senators earlier this week rejected competing proposals that agreed on all aspects except for a technical provision that would have increased the amount of money the federal government could borrow to pay its bills.

On Thursday, with the debt cap increase removed, the Senate approved a “continuing resolution” that would allow the government to continue operations until Dec. 3. The House then followed suit, sending the bill to Biden.

The continuing resolution with the supplemental disaster assistance also extends the National Flood Insurance Program. Without the extension, flood insurance would have lapsed and no new policies could have been written. It does not change the Risk Rating 2.0 policy that goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday. The policy applies new premiums for existing policies beginning in April. The rate increases are expected to be significant over time.

The $28.6 billion in total disaster relief nationwide includes $2.7 billion in block grants for Hurricane Ida recovery.

Around $5 billion is expected to be allocated to the category of funding Louisiana has been seeking for long-term recovery, known as Community Development Block Grants. But of the $5 billion, only around $1.6 billion is being set aside for 2020 disasters that more impacted the southwestern part of the state. Louisiana would not receive the total amount of that, and the final figures are to be determined by federal formulas that account for post-disaster needs.

The state has estimated that housing needs alone following Laura, Delta, and Hurricane Zeta, which hit southeast Louisiana in 2020, amount to nearly $1 billion, the vast majority in southwest Louisiana. It has put total unmet needs from those storms at around $3 billion.

The measure would provide $28.6 billion in emergency funds for communities and federal agencies affected by recent hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters, including:

  • $10 billion for the U.S. Agriculture Department to cover crop losses that occurred in 2020 and 2021. Of that amount, $750 million would be provided to livestock producers.
  • $5.68 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Of that amount, $3 billion would be used to accelerate flood and storm risk reduction projects and $2.08 billion would be used to repair disaster-related damages.
  • $5 billion for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Fund for major disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021.
  • $2.6 billion for U.S. Transportation Department reimbursements to states and territories to repair damage to roads and bridges caused by natural disasters.
  • $1.36 billion for the U.S. Forest Service to address damage caused by natural disasters.
  • $1.2 billion for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Disaster Loans Program.
  • $565 million for the Navy to repair facilities damaged by storms that occurred in 2020 and 2021.