When Congress set aside $500 million last month in emergency aid for victims of recent flooding, Louisiana, crippled by a historic deluge in August, was promised the lion’s share.
That came to pass Thursday (Oct. 13) when the federal government announced the Pelican State would receive more than 87 percent of that first tranche of community development block grants.
“Today, we make a critically needed investment to help these communities recover and help families rebuild their homes,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said in a statement.
Under the plan, Louisiana will get $437.8 million to mete out to victims with severely damaged homes and little or no flood insurance. The bulk of the grants are likely to be spent in the flood’s epicenter of Ascension, East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes.
Texas will receive $45.2 million to rebuild after massive flooding near Houston earlier this year. West Virginia will get $17 million for severe flooding in June.
“This is great news for Louisiana and the thousands of families affected by The Great Flood of 2016, letting them know that more help is on the way,” Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said in a statement.
Congress put aside the $500 million in a temporary budget bill after weeks of brinksmanship ended and lawmakers narrowly averted a government shutdown. Democrats on Capitol Hill had threatened to block the bill if it didn’t include relief aid for Flint, Mich., which was suffering from a lead-contaminated water supply. Republicans had chafed at funding included to combat the Zika virus going to health organization Planned Parenthood’s counterpart in Puerto Rico. Ultimately both sides relented.
To decide where to send the money, HUD studied 33 federally declared disasters that hit the United States in 2016 before Sept. 29, the day President Barack Obama signed off on that budget bill. That timeframe prevents any of the $500 million going to states struck by Hurricane Matthew last week.
HUD located those areas in greatest need of housing repairs, basing its calculus on the numbers of flooded houses and victims without other financial means to rebuild, such as flood or private insurance. It described “severely damaged” as a flooded house that took at least a foot of water and was either uninsured or was occupied by a renter who made less than $20,000 a year.
What it found was Louisiana greatly outpaced its fellow flood-stricken states.
According to HUD, more than 36,000 housing units met those criteria across six of the hardest-hit parishes. Texas, by comparison, had about 4,000 units across three counties and West Virginia, 1,300.
Louisiana’s elected officials have called the $500 million a “down payment” on more federal assistance they say they have been promised after the Nov. 8 elections. Estimates of the flood’s damage ranges from $8.7 billion to as much as $15 billion.
It will be up to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration to establish a long-term recovery plan to dole out the disaster aid.
“This is a great down payment so Louisiana families can get assistance to start moving back into their homes,” Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in a statement.