Gov. Edwards seeks billions for flood recovery; FEMA criticized over trailers

Gov., other La. officials speak before congressional subcommittee on flood recovery

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Gov. John Bel Edwards went to Capitol Hill on Friday with a huge request. He wants Congress to approve billions in a supplemental appropriation for the state's flood  recovery.

"The $2 billion request for CDBG funds is necessary step to rebuilding Louisiana and simply put we cannot recover without it," said Edwards.

The money, the governor said, is needed for housing and economic development after the flooding which caused nearly $9 billion in damage.

"Last month an unnamed storm dropped over seven trillion gallons of rain in south Louisiana, flooding more than 100,000 homes and claiming 13 lives," Edwards said.

Mayors from some of the hard-hit communities addressed the Congressional committee, as well.

"So to say that I'm disappointed, frustrated and angry is an understatement," said Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry.

"Congress and the president can send millions and billions of dollars overseas, but yet our own citizens have to beg and plead for help," said Junior Shelton, mayor of the town of Central.

FEMA is given credit for being on the ground quickly, but local leaders said there are too many rules and a cookie-cutter approach to disaster response.

"We do need the flexibility with the federal programs to be able to address this type of disaster and others yet to come," said Rep. John Mica, R-Florida.

FEMA was criticized over its latest disaster relief trailers. A high-ranking FEMA representative could not answer a question about how many trailers are operational in areas hit by flooding in Louisiana.

"How many are actually there and occupied, functioning for people?" asked Mica.

"I'd have to get back with you on that," said Tony Robinson, with FEMA.

"No, that's not acceptable, either…We have these units sitting there, only a handful deployed and a quarter of a million people displaced. The other thing is these units are useless for 95 percent of the locations. They don't fit in people's driveways," said a visibly frustrated Mica, who has visited areas of the state that had been inundated by the flood.

The two congressmen representing the Baton Rouge area said during the hearing that change must come.

"It makes no sense to me that we would spend $60,000 to $80,000 to bring in a trailer when that $60,000 to $80,000 could make that homeowner whole, but we can't because the Stafford Act says that we cannot put any money into permanent housing. That's not a FEMA problem, that's a Congress problem," said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana.

''The individual assistance cap on Stafford Act is $33,000, is that correct? What do we tell those people, is the Stafford Act sufficient to respond to this disaster?" said Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge.

"I don't fault the president, I don't fault much of what we've had in terms of the help from our federal partners, but this is not over," said Gov. Edwards.

Despite the federal government's own budget problems, the governor is optimistic will do more to help Louisiana.

"I sense a real willingness, a desire to be helpful," Edwards said.

He said he plans to return to Washington next week and expects to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

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