Jim Beam column: Area homeowners need money

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 2, 2021

Why haven’t homeowners in the Greater Lake Charles area received the federal financial help they so desperately need to repair and rebuild their homes that were devastated by Hurricanes Laura and Delta?

If there was ever a mystery of the hour, that is it. And the pleading by area public officials for relief appears to have fallen on deaf ears. So, it comes as no surprise that people in this area are now saying that they believe Greater New Orleans will get the help it needs because of Hurricane Ida’s devastation and Hurricane Laura will be forgotten.

Whenever disaster strikes, FEMA provides help to areas for clearing debris and rebuilding public buildings. It also gives homeowners some financial help, but not nearly enough to restore their homes.

That is where a separate federal program comes into play. It’s called Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery. The program helps local residents repair their homes, and there are many thousands in this area who desperately need those funds.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter has become the main advocate for those homeowners. He said the lack of supplemental disaster aid following four federally declared natural disasters within a year’s time is “glaring, unacceptable and embarrassing.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards said on the first anniversary of Hurricane Laura that the state has demonstrated to federal officials that there is $3 billion in unmet needs from last year’s hurricanes, much of that needed for housing.

You would think the fact that Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the South and that President Joe Biden is a Democrat, that the federal aid would have been here a long time ago. One of Biden’s closest aides is former Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, and that should be another advantage.

Louisiana’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, have also pleaded Lake Charles’ case. Unfortunately, Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, who represents this area, in a Monday email demanded that Biden resign immediately and be impeached if he doesn’t.

One of our readers was right on target when he called Higgins a buffoon. In our need for help from Biden, this area would be much better off without its 3rd District  member of Congress.

Despite proof that the needs are here, the Lake Charles area is still waiting for help. The Advocate has been pleading Lake Charles’ case in its editorials and columns for over a year now, and still no progress.

The newspaper reminded its readers that the Road Home Program after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 provided $9 billion to help 130,000 Louisiana homeowners either rebuild or get bought out. The federal program provided more financial help after the 2016 flood in the Baton Rouge area.

The Advocate said, “And yet Calcasieu Parish waits as homes rot, residents make crucial decisions whether to come back or stay away, and people who’ve rebuilt wonder if the neighborhoods around them will sink or swim.”

Homeowners have had a terrible time trying to settle with insurance companies. Many have turned to lawsuits.

You can understand why so many people in this area continue to be stressed over how much time it is taking to recover from a hurricane that hit over a year ago. Many of them feel forgotten, and Gov. Edwards said something this week that upset some of them even more.

The governor on two occasions said Hurricane Ida that hit the New Orleans area was the strongest storm or tied for the strongest storm to hit Louisiana since 1850. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention that the hurricane that Ida tied was Laura that devastated Southwest Louisiana last year.

Edwards has done a great job managing disasters, including Laura,  since he was first elected. However, since he didn’t mention Laura this week, some residents in this area believe that Laura has already been forgotten.

Getting that $3 billion would help relieve some of their frustration. It is supposed to be a simple process — the president makes a request and Congress comes through with the money.

Some believe other issues have stolen the spotlight. There is the long-running coronavirus pandemic because of a flood of misinformation about vaccines and masks and the disastrous end of the war in Afghanistan.

OK, but Congress appeared to have no trouble coming up with  $1 trillion to fund an infrastructure plan. Biden and the Democrats also want to spend $3.5 trillion on social service programs. So, how come they can’t find the time or the $3 billion Southwest Louisiana needs so desperately for its long-delayed hurricane recovery?

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.