U.S. senator visits home of Lucille Hebert, 92, in Lake Charles

Published 4:24 am Thursday, May 25, 2023

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy paid Lake Charles a visit on Wednesday during his last leg of the Rural Community Funding Summit.

Cassidy, the USDA Rural Development and the Louisiana Housing Corporation visited eight cities in Louisiana to connect community members with state and federal funding opportunities such as the Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Cassidy said he believes events like the Rural Community Funding Summit are vital to connect local communities to funding sources.

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Cassidy was a lead author for the historic bipartisan Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act, which will funnel billions of dollars into Louisiana infrastructure — including roads and bridges, water infrastructure, broadband and resiliency.

The current amount IIJA funds for Louisiana projects sits at $1,581,181,967.

“The bipartisan infrastructure bill is bringing billions of dollars to our country. It has the ability to transform our communities, but only if we use the money,” Cassidy said.“If it is not accessed by people in the state and local level, it is like all this work never happened.”

A collaborative effort between not only the levels of government, but also various state and regional agencies will ensure that as many Louisiana residents reap the benefits of IIJA and other funding sources.

“There’s got to be a flow that comes down from all the efforts we did in Washington, to all the efforts we could do here,” he said.

The idea for the summits stemmed from a conversation Cassidy had with Deidre Robert, USDA Rural Development state director, and Joshua Hollins, Louisiana Housing Corporation executive director. He told them, “You’re going to do housing, and you have USDA, but if you do them apart it’s not nearly as effective as if we do it together, and if you can bring economic development with housing, with water development, with the internet …  through all these different processes, you put a community together, and that community begins to blossom.

“Any one by itself will help, but you put them together and that synergism makes it more powerful, and that’s the goal here today.”

Local leadership is a vital component to increase connectivity between funding sources, local municipalities and citizens. “It’s one thing to say that there’s $500 million coming over five years to Louisiana for small towns to redo their sewer and water systems, but it’s another thing for that mayor or that police juror to look in the eye of the person who’s going to give them that dollar, to get their phone number … that’s the missing ingredient. We are trying to make that connection.”

During his stop, Cassidy visited the home of 92-year-old Lucille Hebert, who recently benefited from one such effort — the Lake Charles Housing Rehabilitation Recovery Program.

The program was introduced — with a pool of funding totaling $9.3 million — to assist homeowners in Lake Charles’ jurisdiction that suffered severe damages to their home during the natural disasters of 2020 and 2021. Hebert’s home, which suffered major flooding damage in May 2021, was one of the first homes to be refurbished.

Including HHRP, there are a couple of different initiatives, Cassidy said, from restoring housing that was leveled to creating “an integrated community in which you’d have lower income, but higher income housing next to each other.”

“The idea being that everybody is elevated by this so it doesn’t become just a pack of housing only for one type of person, but becomes a housing in which that kind of community spirit makes everybody better.”

The ultimate goal is to elevate Southwest Louisiana communities above where they were before storms. “I like to say that when we come back in 10 years, people will look at this as another inflection point of where Southwest Louisiana hit the bottom after the storms,” he said.

“The recovery after Laura and Delta was a recovery, but the bipartisan infrastructure bill does more than get us back to baseline. It brings us further along.”