Duplication of Benefits fix one step closer to reality

John Dupont
Flooding devastated South Louisiana in the 2016 flood.

One of the last holdups to end the Duplication of Benefits provision from the August 2016 flood moved closer to an end last week.

HUD issued the Federal Registry notice for the $1.2 billion dollar mitigation allocation made to Louisiana as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The guidance includes the provisions to distribute funds to flood victims previously denied due to the provision.

The provision – which drew intense criticism from local, state, and federal lawmakers -- has held up the rebuilding and recovery process for the thousands of residents across south Louisiana who sustained damage from the unnamed storm, which surpassed the 1983 flood as the worst on record in modern times.

More than 30 inches of rain fell in less than 36 hours throughout the area, which flooded parts of Iberville, Ascension, East Baton Rouge, and Livingston parishes.

The bulk of the flooding in Iberville Parish occurred on the east bank in the Bayou Paul area, where homes sustained severe damage.

The action last week by US. Department of Housing and Urban Development may finally bring the much-needed relief to the homeowners who sustained flood damage to their property during the storm.

The guidance will provide guidelines for distribution of funds held up through the DOB provision, which made thousands of displaced homeowners ineligible from receiving FEMA assistance if they applied for a Small Business Administration loan.

The holdup stemmed from HUD's provision that a loan was considered a duplication, which led to a longstanding battle by Louisiana's delegation on Capitol Hill, including Congressmen Garret Graves and Cedric Richmond, and Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.

Gov. John Bel Edwards also waged war against the provision.

The state must submit an action plan by Feb. 3, 2020 to get the ball rolling on the federal review and approval process.

"This news gets us one step closer to making the Louisiana Watershed Initiative's mission a reality," Gov. John Bel Edwards said. "It creates an opportunity to address the root causes of flooding in our state, beginning with those areas devastated by the 2016 floods. As flooding becomes a more frequent concern for so many of our communities, it is imperative that we leverage opportunities like this to develop a mutual understanding of risk, increased accountability for decision-making and a stronger sense of long-term responsibility for Louisiana's future."

In 2018, Gov. Edwards formed the Council on Watershed Management to guide the state toward a statewide resilience strategy. The Louisiana Watershed Initiative serves as the Council's programmatic arm, educating local governments about the new approach and establishing ways to coordinate their efforts within watershed regions. Through this program, the state is focused on flood mitigation well beyond the life of the $1.2 billion dollar congressional allocation with plans to leverage the resulting tools, resources, and activities in support of statewide resilience.

"We've made significant progress over the past two years in how state agencies collaborate on flood risk," Bren Haase, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Council on Watershed Management member, said. "The framework in place through the Louisiana Watershed Initiative helps ensure these funds are used as effectively as possible, providing maximum value and long-term impact to Louisiana communities and residents."

Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director James Waskom said the watershed strategy represents a shift in focus to a proactive, long-term effort to reduce the risks posed by future flooding.

"The watershed approach comes out of our experiences during the 2016 floods," Waskom said. "It offers a way for leaders at every level to make policy and planning decisions based on science and engineering, in a coordinated manner that supports the natural functions of rivers and floodplains."