DENHAM SPRINGS – The Louisiana Recovery Task Force unanimously approved a recommendation by Gov. John Bel Edwards to expand the Homeowner Program for residents affected by the 2016 flood events.
The decision will open the gate for flood relief funds to thousands of residents who had not previously received eligibility in the application process, according to Pat Forbes, director of the Governor’s Office of Community Development.
The measures will go to the governor and then to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for final approval.
Recommendations by Gov. John Bel Edwards include an expansion of the program eligibility requirements to include all homeowners with flood insurance who still have an unmet need after insurance proceeds.
“We expect many of the homeowners to be rebuilt and have no award, but this will allow those who were underinsured or still have unmet needs to access additional resources of revenue,” Forbes said.
The expansion would also increase the amount the program pays homeowners for flood-related repair costs that have not yet been completed.
The program currently pays 50 percent of remaining repair costs for homeowners who have an income above 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) requiring the homeowner to come up with the rest of the funds of the funds to complete repairs.
The new guidelines will increase the number up to 100 percent, as part of the recommendations from Gov. Edwards.
“This will reduce the risk of homeowners’ not being able to rebuild due to inability to gather the additional funds necessary to rebuild,” he said.
The plan will also increase the percentage homeowners are reimbursed for the repairs they have already completed. Homeowners who are not currently in Phase 1 or 2 are reimbursed only 25 percent for repairs they have already made.
The changes approved on Friday do not require homeowners to retake the survey if they have completed it, Forbes said.
The move gives the possibility of a much-needed break to flood victims in Livingston and the 55 other parishes which received federal disaster regulations due to severe flooding in 2016, said state Rep. J. Rogers Pope, who serves on the committee.
“I think it’s huge what we did today as far as what we did to increase the eligibility for the number of people who would be eligible now and weren’t eligible prior to this action,” said Pope, R-Denham Springs. “The vast majority of our people who were affected by the flood were not going to get any money from the Restore Louisiana Task Force, so this will at least give them an opportunity and increase multiple times the help for people who already have that opportunity.
“It’s a great thing for our parishes and others affected – it’s long overdue,” he said. “They still have to go through the process, but it’s far better than having less opportunity.”
Earlier in the meeting, local officials called upon members to help restore trust in the system, which has gradually eroded in the year since more than 80 percent of the Livingston Parish homeowners sustained damages in the August flood.
“Every statement an individual homeowner makes to us is exactly the same: Why do we know we won’t get anything?” Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks told members,” he said. “Somehow another, that sentiment has spread to just about every homeowner in the parish.”
Ricks also urged members to approve a waiver on what the federal government considers a duplication of benefits when homeowners apply for a loan to cover repairs to their residence.
Forbes said later in the meeting the duplication issue – which primarily targets SBA loans and FEMA grants – is expected to go up for discussion when Congress returns to session in September.
He has also asked HUD once more to forgive SBA loans taken out following the flood to rebuild homes. HUD has maintained that those who have been approved for an SBA loan would have that amount count as a duplication of benefit, which would reduce the amount of assistance those homeowners could receive from Restore Louisiana.
The task force also gave its unanimous approval to the governor’s request to increase grant award amounts to those who are already eligible for construction work and reimbursements.