Louisiana Recovery Update

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

BATON ROUGE – A decade after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated Louisiana, hard-hit communities are coming back stronger than ever. To date, assistance to Louisiana’s residents and communities from GOHSEP and FEMA totals more than $19.6 billion.

     “Louisiana is more prepared today than ever before,” said GOHSEP Director Kevin Davis. “That’s a tribute to the local, state and federal partnership we have created in Louisiana, focused on preparedness and resiliency.”

     The more than $19.6 billion in federal disaster assistance has made its way to Louisiana cities, parishes and citizens through FEMA’s Individual Assistance, Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation grant programs.

     That includes nearly $5.8 billion in Individual Assistance grants provided to nearly 916,000 individuals and families affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana. More than $5.5 billion of the total was provided within a year of the storms, giving residents a helping hand in rebuilding their lives and restoring livelihoods.

     The total also includes nearly $12.4 billion obligated in Public Assistance reimbursements to the state and local governments, and eligible private nonprofit organizations; and more than $1.4 billion obligated for mitigation projects to build stronger, safer, more resilient communities. FEMA continues to reimburse the State of Louisiana for 100 percent of the costs for projects under the Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation Grant programs.

     To date, nearly 80 percent of the currently projected repair and replacement costs under the Public Assistance program for Katrina have been disbursed to applicants. Under Hurricane Rita’s Public Assistance program, 90 percent of the repair and replacement costs have been disbursed.

     Separately, the state and FEMA provided more than $321.5 million in Disaster Unemployment Assistance to nearly 185,000survivors who lost jobs as a result of the hurricanes, and $17.9 million in Relocation Assistance so more than 10,000 families could return home to their communities. In addition, FEMA funded one of the largest crisis counseling programs ever – providing more than $68.5 million to Louisiana Spirit to help adults and children identify ways to deal with the trauma and stress of surviving and recovering from the hurricanes. Louisiana Spirit is a federally-funded crisis counseling and stress management program for individuals, families and groups affected by presidentially declared disasters across the state of Louisiana.

     In addition to the $19.6 billion in grant program funding, the FEMA-administered National Flood Insurance Porgram paid more than $16.2 billion in claims to more than 215,000 policyholders in the state, while the U.S. Small Business Administration provided nearly $6.9 billion in low-interest disaster recovery loans to help homeowners, renters and businesses rebuild.

     Although recovery from the storms has been a top priority, FEMA and local jurisdictions also considered the safety of residents in the future. With more than $23 million in FEMA assistance, Louisiana increased the number of jurisdictions with FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plans from just four to 68, including all 64 parishes in the state. Mitigation plans form the foundation of a community's long-term strategy to reduce disaster losses and break the cycle of disaster damage, reconstruction and repeated damage.

     While monetary assistance is vital to Louisiana’s recovery, it does not tell the full story of the state and federal family’s commitment to survivors since Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

     Through collaborative efforts, FEMA and GOHSEP conducted the largest housing operation in our nation’s history, providing temporary housing to nearly 74,000 families displaced by Katrina and another 11,000 families displaced by Rita. As of three years ago, all of these survivors had returned to longer-term housing.

     “The success of Louisiana’s recovery so far has been all about solidifying and strengthening partnerships. It’s about coming together, finding common ground and focusing on rebuilding communities that are stronger and more sustainable for the future,” said Mike Womack of FEMA, director of the Louisiana Recovery Office.