Louisiana governor asks White House for $3B in hurricane aid

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards is asking President Joe Biden for $3 billion to help Louisiana with its ongoing recovery from the 2020 hurricanes, saying Tuesday that he's filed a request with the new White House similar to the unfulfilled ask he made of the prior administration.

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The Democratic governor talked of the block grant assistance he's seeking during a trip to hard-hit Lake Charles to discuss the work to recover from Hurricanes Laura and Delta. Congressional approval is needed if the state is to receive the money.

“I feel very confident that we will get it because the president has told me he understands what the needs are, he’s going to be helpful,” the governor said. “We have a former Louisiana congressman (Cedric Richmond) working in the White House right now, and every time he speaks about what the priorities are, he mentions Louisiana’s hurricane recovery efforts.”

The aid request, made in a formal letter to the White House, seeks dollars that can be spent to help rebuild people's homes, create affordable rental housing, modernize infrastructure and harden against future storm threats, Edwards said. He'd also like some money to be available for state and local government agencies to pay their share of federal assistance costs for disaster removal, direct aid to families and other response work.

Laura ravaged southwest Louisiana, striking Aug. 27 as a Category 4 storm just south of Lake Charles. Less than two months later, Delta swept into the same area as a Category 2 storm last October. Nearly 47,000 homes were damaged by Laura across 21 parishes, most in the Lake Charles region, according to state estimates. Projections from disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. put the combined insured U.S. losses from Laura and Delta at nearly $10 billion.

Some families with destroyed homes still are living in tents or are unable to get home. Edwards said 684 evacuees remain sheltered by the state in hotels in New Orleans and Lafayette.

Still, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter struck a note of optimism Tuesday at a news briefing with the governor. He said the initial “dark and scary” worst-case scenarios of his city suffering widespread water and power outages for months didn't happen, and people are working to rebuild their homes and their lives.

“Absolutely, there's room for improvement. Absolutely, we wish that certain things were moving quicker,” Hunter said. But he added: “I believe that we are well on our way to recovery.”

Edwards said he hopes the Democratic-controlled Congress will earmark hurricane recovery block grant aid to Louisiana by spring. The state's congressional delegation is pushing the request as well, and Edwards said U.S. House and Senate leaders have said they support sending assistance to the state.

The governor sent former President Donald Trump a similar letter in November asking for hurricane recovery help, saying the individual assistance grants handed out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency won't be enough to rebuild.

That request didn't bring block grant aid to Louisiana.

As he asked for more assistance, Edwards stressed Tuesday that federal aid so far has aided thousands of people and businesses. He said FEMA has given Laura and Delta victims $250 million for housing assistance and other needs, and he said the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved $627 million in low-interest loans.

“The assistance that we've received thus far has been substantial,” the governor said. “It's just insufficient to do everything that we need to do.”

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.