FOX 8 Defenders: Home Elevation Program under the microscope

A local lawmaker warns there may be even deeper problems within Governor Bobby Jindal's Disaster Recovery Unit.
The FOX 8 Defenders and the National Council of Jewish Women uncovered this new issue while investigating the state's embattled Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Just days after the legislative auditor's office blasts the Jindal Administration's Home Elevation Program, known as HMGP, another hurricane recovery program is coming under the microscope. Some say the problems are the most inexcusable yet.

In late 2009, Governor Bobby Jindal's Disaster Recovery Unit announced a new program to help homeowners protect their property in future storms. Qualifying homeowners could get $7,500 to pay for individual mitigation measures or IMM's.
These are small-scale projects like installing storm shutters, strengthening doors, elevating air conditioning units or anchoring propane tanks.
The program started out with $198 to disburse. As of May 16, 2011, only $75 million has actually been handed out. That means $123 million, or 62 percent of the IMM money is still just sitting in the government's bank account.

Plenty of people are waiting. Representative Neil Abramson, Vice Chair of the Legislative Hurricane Recovery Committee, says he's bombarded by applicants who have been promised IMM grants but received nothing. Abramson says his committee fixed the initial hold up with the program.

"There is no reason at all why that program isn't churning out money; the money these people are entitled to," says Louisiana State Rep Neil Abramson. "People who wanted $7,500 storm shutters had to go through a FEMA hold where they had to go through environmental clearance to put a shutter on their house."

Last Fall, the committee eliminated the environmental study requirement by convincing the government to transfer the IMM program out of FEMA's jurisdiction and over to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD's requirements are much simpler than FEMA's. Although HUD does require the state to look at a few checks and balances, Abramson says they're fast and simple.

"That shouldn't take but a couple of hours or day's work at the most. We ought to be rolling that money out so in this storm season those people are protected. There's no reason why those checks shouldn't be getting out," Abramson said.

Barring an extreme case, Abramson says state has no excuse for not dispersing every IMM grant by the end of the Summer.

The governor's Disaster Recovery Unit declined to comment for this story. If you have a consumer problem, contact the FOX 8 Defenders at 1-877-670-6397.