WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), spoke on the Senate floor this afternoon regarding the status of disaster relief provisions affecting Louisiana in the proposed budget deal.
A partial transcript of Cassidy’s remarks on the floor is below.
CASSIDY: Louisiana had two catastrophic floods in 2016…with over 100,000 disaster victims who became eligible for SBA, or Small Business Administration, Disaster Assistance loans…
56 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes had federal disaster declarations. The August storm alone caused an estimated $10 billion dollars in damage to private property, which apart from hurricanes, made it the most expensive U.S. disaster in the last 100 years.
The most devastating thing was how little time people had to react. The storm was missing key cyclone characteristics so the National Hurricane Center had no expectation of how devastating this storm would be, and the first parishes hit by the flooding had no time to evacuate or prepare.
Many families that were impacted by the great floods of 2016 in Louisiana lived outside what are called special hazard zones, and were not required and did not carry flood insurance. Indeed, about 80 percent of flooded homes did not have flood insurance.
Last year, I worked with the Louisiana delegation to obtain about $2 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to help cover portions of those uninsured losses for Louisiana families and small businesses.
We also got about $500 million in disaster tax relief to help with the uncompensated disaster losses.
But with CDBG, or Community Development Block Grant funding, which is distributed through the Restore Louisiana Homeowner Assistance Program, there’s something which is an arcane and arbitrary rule called duplication of benefits. Now, the duplication of benefits rule states that if an individual was eligible and/or received a loan from the Small Business Administration, that individual is ineligible for a grant from the Restore Louisiana Assistance Program.
The rule makes no sense. An individual who did the right thing, drew upon all available resources to rebuild their home and put their life back together, they are denied relief.
Language to fix this issue was included in the disaster supplemental passed by the House last year. The Senate was prepared to consider this in December, but the legislation was delayed, frankly held hostage by the minority party, using it to gain leverage to get more government spending as part of the budget negotiations we are now in.
Now that this disaster supplemental has been rolled into the budget negotiations, we saw that the provision to fix the duplication of benefits rules was added—but only covered Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
So I worked with my fellow Louisiana senator, Senator Kennedy, and members of the Appropriations Committee to make sure Louisiana is treated the same as Texas and other states.
Now, this provision applies to individuals who are eligible to receive an SBA loan but did not take a loan.
What does that mean? What’s the scope to this?
According to the SBA, 100,000 homeowners were eligible to apply for an SBA loan from the March and August 2016 floods. 38,000 applications were received. 18,000 were approved.
So as I’m told, if you’re eligible but even don’t take out the loan, you don’t qualify for the Restore Louisiana grant. Again, if you’re eligible, I’m told, if you’re eligible but did not take the loan from the SBA, you’re not eligible then to receive the Restore Louisiana grant because of the duplication of benefits rule.
So there’s roughly 82,000 homeowners who could potentially be eligible to receive relief from repealing or altering this duplication of benefits rule.
Now, there’s some confusion of my state, I want to be clear: this does apply to the $2 billion CDBG grants that the Louisiana delegation secured to help families recover from the 2016 floods in Louisiana.
Senator Kennedy and I also helped secure additional Army Corps resources to fully fund the Comite River Diversion, a diversion that takes flood waters from the Comite River into the Mississippi and would’ve helped prevent many homes from being flooded. Probably the homes that these folks were being evacuated from in the great flood of 2016.
We also secured $12 billion in mitigation grants specifically for Louisiana and about five other states, which is much more targeted for disaster states then the House bill.
Again, the Senate bill is more dollars for more, the same number of dollars but for fewer states, therefore more targeted than in the House bill.
So the disaster relief portion of this legislation has taken some steps in the right direction.
However, we still need additional clarification around duplication of benefits issues and legacy FEMA appeals matters.
I thank my Senate colleague from Louisiana for his work on this and hope to receive further commitments from the Appropriations Committee to continue to work on these important disaster recovery issues.