Editorial: More budget cuts now take aim at emergency planning offices

A cut in federal funding by the state of Louisiana for emergency planning offices has angered local officials.

Last month, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration announced it was taking a bigger slice of a $5.4 million federal grant used

to help fund local Office of Emergency Preparedness operations.

The state allocated $3.4 million of the grant last year for local offices. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and

Emergency Preparedness, aka GOHSEP, kept the remaining $2 million.

The Jindal administration announced last month it would direct $3.5 million of the federal funds to GOHSEP, leaving $1.9 million

for the 64 OEP offices around the state.

Consequently, Calcasieu Parish’s Office of Emergency Preparedness will take a $53,630, or 53 percent, cut in the federal funds

and emergency preparedness offices in Southwest Louisiana will have to absorb cuts of at least 30 percent.

Allen Parish’s OEP federal funding will fall from $36,000 to $23,000, Beauregard Parish from $40,000 to $24,000, Jeff Davis

Parish from $38,000 to $24,000 and Cameron Parish from $29,000 to $20,000.

“It’s a plain old power grab by the

state,” said Calcasieu Parish OEP director Dick Gremillion. “The

Emergency Management

Performance Grant is from FEMA for all states and is designed to

be passed down to the local governments. What the state did

is perfectly legal. But you have to question the morality of it.”

Gremillion said Jindal, upon taking office in 2008, pushed to get an emergency preparedness office in every parish in the

state. He said larger parishes like Calcasieu accepted a cut in the federal money to help fund start-up OEP operations in

smaller parishes.

He said the current cut could “put us back in a pre-Hurricane Katrina stance when we had 25 to 30 OEP directors around the

state.”

“They (parishes) may have someone with that designation (OEP director), but that may be all that they have,” Gremillion said.

The timing couldn’t be worse, Gremillion said, with Louisiana in the midst of hurricane season, noting that if and when there

is a local emergency, it will be answered by local responders initially, not the state.

“It’s pathetic,” he said. “The sad thing about it is if it was state money, I could see them having to withdraw it. But the

state is taking the federal money and supplementing the state budget.

“I guess they are rationalizing that the state needs it more than the local offices, but that’s very questionable.”

Retired Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed, deputy mayor for public safety in New Orleans, said it is the local emergency preparedness offices

that “fight the battle,” adding that GOHSEP is strictly in a support role.

West Feliciana Parish OEP Director Tommy Boyett said the funding loss “cuts the heart” out of OEP services.

These cuts appear to be myopic, which is certainly becoming one of Gov. Jindal’s legacies.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.