Disaster supplemental relief for SW La. ‘crumbs’

Published 5:59 am Friday, October 1, 2021

Congress approved legislation Thursday that includes $28.6 billion in disaster supplemental relief for Louisiana and other states. However, local leaders are concerned that Southwest Louisiana won’t get enough federal aid to fully bounce back from Hurricanes Laura and Delta.
The passage of the bill avoided a partial government shutdown. Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said the supplemental package has $1.6 billion in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery aid allocated for all 2020 disasters, with Southwest Louisiana anticipated to get $600 million for Hurricanes Laura and Delta. The Louisiana Office of Community Development estimated the unmet needs for Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta is around $3 billion.
“When you look at other singular hurricanes over the last 20 years and the billions of dollars that have flowed down to those communities, $600 million is crumbs,” he said.
Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Brian Abshire said in a statement that while the parish has waited patiently for federal aid, “Washington politics has diluted the relief bill.”
Housing needs alone for Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta is around $900 million. The federal aid doesn’t take into account the damages from the February winter storm and the May flooding in Lake Charles, Hunter said.
“That ($600 million) will put a small dent in housing,” he said. “I’m thankful it’s something, but it’s just really like a punch in the gut. It makes you feel like we’re less American.”

Since the Category 4 Hurricane Laura devastated Southwest Louisiana 13 months earlier, Hunter and other local elected leaders have repeatedly asked for federal aid, hearing responses and promises from lawmakers on the federal level, including Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, over many months.

“I’m pretty exasperated and worn out from this whole process,” Hunter said. “I thought we would be so much further along than we are. When we talk about disappointment, it’s not for City Hall or me — it’s for the citizens and small business owners out there who are struggling.”
Hunter said there won’t be any money left for economic revitalization and infrastructure, two major components needed to recover from a major natural disaster.

“It’s very disheartening and a little depressing to know we are going to have to pivot as local leadership,” he said. “The process and recovery is going to take longer, but we will do what we always do — find a way.”

Abshire said the help local officials were hoping for, and had been promised, is “nowhere to be found.” “This feel-good bill makes no one but the federal politicians actually feel good, and it will do very little for Calcasieu Parish,” he said. “We will continue to fight for what our residents need, and, frankly, what our residents deserved a year ago.”