LC mayor can ‘see the finish line’ after president requests disaster funding

Published 8:58 pm Wednesday, September 8, 2021

A request Tuesday by the White House’s budget office to provide supplemental disaster relief for the various natural disasters in 2020 has Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter more optimistic than ever that Southwest Louisiana can fully recover from the devastation Hurricane Laura left behind more than a year ago.

The request by the Office of Management and Budget includes $2.3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery Program. Congress must approve the request, and the aid would likely be attached to spending legislation. A vote is anticipated later this month, with the upcoming federal fiscal year starting in October.

Exactly how much funding Southwest Louisiana would receive remains unknown, but Hunter said Wednesday that he expects the region will get a significant amount. The funding request does not include Hurricane Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29 and caused widespread damage throughout Southeast Louisiana.

Hunter and other local officials have long been advocating for federal supplemental disaster relief. They grew increasingly frustrated as each passing month saw no action. Meanwhile, the city continues to struggle after Hurricane Laura, which was quickly followed by Hurricane Delta last October, then a harsh winter storm in February and the historic May rainfall that led to severe flooding.

While the federal government has allocated more than $1 billion to address short-term disaster needs in the region, Hunter and other local officials said that amount falls far short of tackling long-term issues, the largest being housing. He said the amount of federal funding earmarked for Southwest Louisiana should allow for a long-term sustainable rehousing plan, akin to the Road Home Program, established after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in 2005.

“It is my opinion that the majority of the money should go to those who need it most,” he said. “We need to have people re-establish themselves in sustainable housing.”

Prior to the White House request, Hunter said he had only received verbal offers of support on the federal level. President Joe Biden spoke of the region’s need for federal aid during a visit to Lake Charles in May, and again after a visit last week to an area of the state impacted by Hurricane Ida.

“What the Biden administration did is put something tangible on the table,” he said. “There is still a lot left to be done. We can see the finish line.”

Hunter said he received a call around noon Tuesday from a White House staffer, telling him the announcement of the request was coming within hours.

“It was very much out of the blue,” he said. “I’ve been hearing positive notions for a year, so to actually have that phone call, it was almost unbelievable.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said in a statement that the formal request is “long overdue for Southwest Louisiana.”

“We must make sure that everyone is cared for after Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta from 2020 and Ida from last week,” he said. “But recovery is a two pronged approach. We need to pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to better prepare for future storms.”

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, said in a statement that the request “is a major step forward toward delivering much-needed grant funding in response to Hurricanes Laura and Delta.”

Hunter stressed the need for Congress to have bipartisan support on the supplemental disaster aid.

“I do not believe long-term disaster recovery should be a partisan issue,” he said. “The Biden administration has lived up to its promise to the people of Southwest Louisiana. I call on Congress to do the same.”