Jim Beam column: Biden says area’s help on way

Published 3:03 pm Sunday, September 5, 2021

President Joe Biden came to Louisiana Friday to survey the widespread devastation caused by Hurricane Ida in southeast Louisiana. And, thankfully, he had extremely good news for which the people of southwest Louisiana have been waiting to hear for over a year.

“I know the folks in Lake Charles who I visited earlier this year are still hurting from Hurricane Laura. I want you to know we’re going to be here for you,” Biden said.

“With regard to Lake Charles, I’ve put in a request in the budget to provide for help for recovery for Lake Charles for the consequences of Laura and Delta, the two storms (for which) they still haven’t got the needs met that they have.”

Biden walked the streets of hard-hit LaPlace and told local residents, “I know you’re hurting. I know you’re hurting. I promise you we’re going to have your back,” he said. And that is when he talked about the needs of southwest Louisiana.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and Gov. John Bel Edwards were on hand to greet the president. Both Cassidy and Scalise earlier in the week said they were working on Community Development Block Grant funding for southwest Louisiana, and they obviously got the ear of the president.

It has been estimated there may be up to 5,000 people in the Lake Charles area who remain out of their homes. Some have had problems getting their insurance claims satisfied, and others simply don’t have the necessary funds to rebuild.

Edwards thinks the state has $3 billion in unmet needs and expects to receive about half of that in the federal appropriation Biden is talking about. Southwest Louisiana would be in line for about half of that half.

Biden said hurricane victims in southeast Louisiana have received $500 in FEMA funding to help them with immediate needs. There are 25 parishes that have been declared disaster areas.

Most of us can’t remember a hurricane like Ida that was so damaging to so much of the country. At least 23 people died in New Jersey and 13 were killed in New York City, 11 of them in flooded basement apartments.

The president said other superstorms are coming and used the occasion to talk about his $1 trillion infrastructure bill. He said during his brief speech in LaPlace that electric power is always lost during storms like Ida and putting power lines below ground would have avoided the complexity of power losses.

It’s expensive to put those lines underground, but Biden indicated his infrastructure bill would pick up much of those costs. Areas that have their lines underground do have power outages, but it’s usually because of the loss of a transformer. Power can be restored much quicker.

Biden said, “It seems to me we can save a whole lot of money, a whole lot of pain for our constituents, if we build back, rebuild it back in a better way.”

The hurt and pain that people in southeast Louisiana are going through now is easier for those of us who live in this area to understand. We also know there are parishes in southeast Louisiana that believe they are being overlooked.

Unfortunately, no one understands and is ready to accept the fact that six nursing home residents died and nearly 800 more were rescued from a warehouse in Independence.

Bob Dean owned seven nursing homes from which 843 residents were evacuated before Hurricane Ida arrived. Families of those residents didn’t know where they were. When they were located, authorities found them living in inhumane conditions.

What is difficult to understand is the fact that investigators from the state Department of Health who went to inspect the warehouse were kicked off the premises. They finally managed to get the residents transferred.

We can be sure that this sad situation will be thoroughly investigated by the health department, the state attorney general and legal authorities.

Then, there is the good news. Our special thanks to the 25,000 utility workers who are in Louisiana restoring electric service. Two of them lost their lives, demonstrating how dangerous their jobs can be.

Also, residents of southwest Louisiana, who are still recovering from four natural disasters, are finding time and resources to send food and other supplies to southeast Louisiana.

Finally, there was the good news from President Biden about the Lake Charles area getting the financial aid it desperately needs to complete its recovery. Biden has done his part. The rest is up to Congress, so please pray it does its job.

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.