BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will receive $595 million in federal disaster block grant aid to help with housing restoration and other recovery needs from last year's back-to-back blows of Hurricanes Laura and Delta, the state's two U.S. senators announced Tuesday.
While welcomed by officials as critical to rebuilding efforts in southwest Louisiana, the money falls far short of the multibillion-dollar estimates of need, offering only about 20% of the $3 billion in assistance requested by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
It also comes 14 months after Laura wrecked the Lake Charles region, a delay that had locals questioning whether the nation had forgotten them.
“It has been over a year since Louisiana was hammered by Hurricane Laura and this relief has taken far too long,” Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy said in a statement. “This funding is a welcome first step, but there is more work to be done to return southwest Louisiana to wholeness.”
GOP U.S. Sen. John Kennedy said the money will provide “a helping hand as we rebuild.”
“Louisianians are still reeling from the damage left by Laura and Delta,” he said in a statement.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will oversee the block grant aid, which will require the state to outline plans for spending the money and receive federal approval of the plans. The state Office of Community Development will oversee the spending.
Edwards said Louisiana already is drafting its spending proposal for submission once HUD issues its regulations. But the Democratic governor also suggested the state will be requesting more assistance from Washington, saying the current amount “is not in our view sufficient.”
“We will do everything that we can with the money we are given to make sure that there is a complete and robust recovery, but it will be very challenging to do that with $595 million,” Edwards said.
The federal disaster aid was included in legislation passed by Congress last month that also helped avoid a government shutdown. Billions were set aside for disaster relief across multiple states. Louisiana had been waiting to receive its specific allocation figure.
Laura struck the southwestern parishes on Aug. 27, 2020, as a fierce Category 4 hurricane. Less than two months later, Delta swept into the same area as a Category 2 storm. Historic flooding followed in May. Across southwest Louisiana, homes still bear blue tarps and await roof repairs, businesses remain boarded up and some neighborhoods look almost abandoned. Thousands remain displaced.
The region has received hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help people with short-term needs and to help replace damaged government buildings. But the block grant aid will help with long-term housing assistance and other rebuilding work that didn't qualify for FEMA aid.
After the first estimates emerged about what Louisiana would receive for Laura and Delta recovery, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter described the block grant money in a Facebook post as “woefully insufficient" for the outstanding recovery issues, but he also said it “will make a dent in our great housing need.”
Cassidy has said the congressional delegation will keep making the case for more federal aid for southwest Louisiana, but he said that will be difficult to achieve.
Louisiana also is hoping to get additional disaster block grant assistance for its recovery from Hurricane Ida, which struck southeastern parishes on Aug. 29 as a Category 4 storm and left a widespread trail of damage.
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