Flood relief fund holdup continues in Washington

John Dupont
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves assists Volunteer Ascension with the Hurricane Harvey relief effort in 2017.

The long-awaited federal guidance on the Duplication of Benefits fix remains unresolved, much to the chagrin of Congressman Garret Graves.

The latest delay comes in the wake of several self-imposed deadlines by FEMA on the DOB issue, which was resolved nearly eight months ago.

Louisiana will likely receive $230 million of the relief money from the flood events of 2016, which caused extensive damage in parishes across south central and southeast Louisiana, including Pointe Coupee Parish.

The DOB fix will help those who have been denied on requests for the Restore Louisiana awards, which came from funds allocated through HUD, Graves said.

The holdup on the required federal guidance has blocked the fund distribution.

Members of the House and Senate continuously relayed information HUD, the Office of Budget Management and the Small Business Administration, but the issue remains stuck in park, said Graves, a Republican from Baton Rouge who represents District 6.

"They told us they would have the guidance finished by the end of the week, and it did not happen," he said. "They've set deadlines for themselves repeatedly and they've missed every single one of them."

Graves and North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows met with FEMA officials on Monday, but the issue remained unresolved.

"Draft guidance they put together was not appropriate, I was told, and so they are working on revising it to make it more actionable," Graves said. "We were told May 20 it would take several more days."

The Department of Justice stepped forth to request a two-week extension on the holdup before it goes to court as part of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Baton Rouge area flood victims.

The request would allow two more weeks in hopes that the issue can be resolved before the issue heads to court.

"What they told the judge in the lawsuit was that they thought the guidance would be finalized by that

time, therefore making the lawsuit moot," Graves said.

The ongoing delay remains a source of frustration, he said.

"I don’t control the timelines," Graves said. "If I were in charge, I would've fired several people months ago."

Graves said he remains confident that the affected homeowners will receive the awards they were promised.

"I wouldn't tell you that if I didn't think it was the case," he said. "The money is in the bank and everybody agrees the law fixes it, but we have a bunch of bureaucrats whom, in my opinion, aren't

doing their job."

The legislation – authored by Graves and Louisiana Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans – was tacked onto Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill, which the House and Senate approved last September.

Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget was expected to come within 45 days after President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law.

Louisiana's House and Senate delegation originally tapped HUD as the roadblock on fund distribution, but conversations with HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson shifted blame to the OMB.

Graves and other House members have had difficulties with high-ranking OMB officials, including one who has since been let go.

Congressional officials from 12 states – all of which encountered natural disasters in the last three years – have worked with Graves and Richmond to end the holdup.