Duplication of Benefits stalemate clears hurdle

John Dupont
A flooded home tagged "Flooded with Hope" in Sorrento, Louisiana.

Distribution of relief funds for flood victims from 2016 came one step closer to fruition last week when the Federal Registry published guidance on the long-awaited end to the Duplication of Benefits provision.

The allocation of $132 million to victims in all but three of the 64 parishes across the state will go into effect based on income guidelines brokered in the settlement.

A family of four with a household income of $60,000 or less that borrowed funds form the Small Business Administration will automatically qualify for FEMA grant money to repay the loan.

With the money left over, families in households up to $90,000 may qualify for the grant.

Households of $90,000 or more must appeal to the state for a hardship to repay the SBA loan.

The ball will now be in the court of Governor John Bel Edwards to define "hardship."

Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, disagrees with the provision.

"After eight long months, we are relieved that the guidance is in and that we finally have a path forward to allow many of the DOB victims to get paid," he said. "However, in the guidance HUD introduced new criteria adding income thresholds and trying to box out a significant portion of these individuals from ever getting their money.

"I think it is unlawful and it is not consistent with the bill we wrote and passed," Graves said. "They are certainly making this more bureaucratic and we will continue to exert pressure on HUD to ensure they comply with the intent of the law."

The timetable for distribution is not yet cast in stone, but Graves estimates that checks could go out to homeowners by August.

The U.S. House and Senate last September voted overwhelmingly to end the DOB provision for all disasters from 2012-2018, which opened the gates for thousands of homeowners to qualify for assistance after previous rejections.

U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy, R-Louisiana, said last week it was only the orders of President Donald Trump that forced bureaucracy to end the nine-month stalemate.

"I asked the President to intervene, and by the grace of God he did it," he said in a conference call last week. "I told the President we passed the law, and he told me not to worry about it and that he would take care of it.

"Next thing you know, we got a phone call from the bureaucrats . . . they were born again and found religion," Kennedy said. "Whether you like President Trump or dislike him, he's a man of his word."