City hiring two agencies to help with disaster recovery financial advocacy

Published 9:08 pm Thursday, September 16, 2021

The city of Lake Charles is now able to consult with two companies on how best to spend the federal supplemental disaster funding that still awaits approval from Congress.

The City Council on Wednesday voted unanimously to let the city enter into cooperative endeavor agreements with Cornerstone Government Affairs and SBP for financial advocacy related to disaster recovery, including Hurricanes Laura and Delta.

The White House’s budget office made a request Sept. 7 for supplemental disaster relief for the various natural disasters that occurred last year. The request includes $2.3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant — Disaster Recovery Program.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said Thursday that while SBP and Cornerstone have been informally advising the city, the recent request by the White House made it necessary for the two companies to provide regular guidance. Hunter said he expects both companies to spend the next 3-4 months working with the city.

“The city is going to accept as much counsel and advice as we can get from those who have worked with other communities after disasters,” Hunter said. “We don’t want to see federal resources used ineffectively or inefficiently.”

According to its website, SBP formed after Hurricane Katrina’s 2005 landfall and was initially focused on helping St. Bernard Parish in its recovery. The organization was rebranded as SBP in 2016 and has since grown to help communities nationwide with home rebuilding and advocating for housing assistance. Hunter said SBP was on the ground the day after Hurricane Laura’s landfall in August 2020, and the city developed a working relationship with the organization.

Hunter said Paul Rainwater, a senior consultant with the Washington, D.C.-based Cornerstone Government Affairs, introduced the city to the company. Rainwater served as the city’s chief administrative officer from 2000 to 2006 and was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff from 2012 to 2014.

Hunter credited Rainwater’s advocacy in helping secure the request by the White House for federal supplemental disaster aid. He said Cornerstone has also been working closely with the Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana.

Currently, the city continues to wait and see which legislation the supplemental disaster aid will likely be attached to, Hunter said.

“Something like a continuing resolution would be ideal, as long as Congress doesn’t attach a dozen controversial things to it,” he said. “Then, passage becomes a lot more difficult.”

Hunter said he has spoken with staff from Louisiana’s Republican U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy on the need to get this disaster aid approved by Congress without any roadblocks.

“We’ve been waiting long enough,” he said. “We don’t need any more political interference.”