[StBernard] Governor Blanco, LRA Press Federal Legislative Agenda for Recovery

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Feb 12 21:00:12 EST 2007

Governor Blanco, LRA Press Federal Legislative Agenda for Recovery

Board Also Approves Funding Packages for Parish Recovery Projects and Family Recovery Corps

BATON ROUGE, La. (February 12, 2007) - The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) board of directors today approved funding packages for parish recovery projects and direct assistance for displaced families and heard updates on recovery efforts from Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco regarding her recent meetings with top Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

Governor Blanco outlined Louisiana's federal recovery agenda and the commitments secured during her visit. LRA board member Walter Leger also testified before Congress on housing issues and other areas of recovery being slowed by federally-mandated red tape.

Because of last week's visits, several key Senators already expressed support in one specific area with far-reaching effects, the Governor's and LRA's request that the 10% Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cost share requirement be waived.

"Waiving the 10% non-federal cost share will free up over $750 million dollars for the state to invest in critical infrastructure needs," said Governor Blanco. "It will also free up countless administrative hours of burdensome federal paperwork. This is huge. Both the House and Senate leadership assured me that we would see this move - most likely in an Omnibus bill - prior to Easter."

LRA estimates show that the current policy will cost Louisiana more than $1 billion in matching funds, although the cost share was waived for significantly less expensive disasters including Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Iniki. The federal government also waived the match requirement for New York following September 11, 2001. Should President Bush adjust the policy and waive Louisiana's match requirement, $750 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds would become available for recovery efforts in need of additional funding including individual parish recovery projects.

Other federal priorities for recovery outlined by Governor Blanco include:

* Cutting the red tape in hazard mitigation funding for the Road Home program
* Exempting the Road Home awards from federal tax penalties
* Allowing forgiveness of community disaster loans
* Combating crime in New Orleans
* Extending social services block grants (SSBG) supplemental funds for one year
* Allocating disaster recovery funds proportional to damage
* Investing in hurricane protection and coastal restoration
* Increasing recovery aid to small businesses and approve key business extensions
* Extending key deadlines for Gulf Opportunity Zone (GO Zone) Tax Credits
* Clarifying Small Business Administration (SBA) loan treatment relating to Road Home grants

The LRA board also voted for final approval of an action plan recommending $200 million in CDBG funds be allocated to parishes across the state for the implementation of long-term community recovery planning efforts. The funds are designed to cover projects related to economic, environmental, housing and public safety issues.

"We are confident that this formula makes certain funds are being distributed to the most affected areas," said LRA Infrastructure and Transportation Task Force Chair John T. Landry. "Now parishes and municipalities will have the resources to move forward on critical construction projects like police stations, fire stations, schools and other public infrastructure."

The distribution of funds among the parishes, as agreed upon by local elected officials, will be based on an estimate of damage inflicted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and can be viewed at http://lra.louisiana.gov/assets/feb07/AllocationsMemoFinal021207.pdf <http://keelson.eatel.net/websites/la.gov/action.cfm?md=communication&task=addClick&msg_ID=3339&ID=dhj%20k%28mhl%22m%2B&redirect=http://lra.louisiana.gov/assets/feb07/AllocationsMemoFinal021207.pdf> .

The basis of that estimate will be damage to housing stock and infrastructure, as estimated using housing data and FEMA Public Assistance data. The plan now moves to the Louisiana Legislature and then the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for final approval.

The board also approved a plan recommending the reallocation of $3.5 million in SSBG funds to the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps (LFRC). The organization was created by Governor Blanco to help citizens recovering from the disasters through case management and supportive services for families and elderly adults, creating summer activities for school-aged children, providing free school uniforms and creating the NOLA Bound initiative to help Louisiana residents living out-of-state make informed decisions about returning home.

"This additional funding will provide direct assistance to those people and families still struggling to come home and recover from the storms," said LRA board member Calvin Mackie. "While Family Recovery Corps will most assuredly need more support down the road, today's vote will hopefully provide an immediate lift to their important work."

Should the plan receive approval from the Louisiana Legislature and HUD, the funding would support evacuee families, including covering their travel expenses to return to Louisiana, along with assistance for rent and rental deposits as recommended by LRA board member and Senate President Pro Tempore Diana Bajoie.

In their final vote of the day, the board voted for preliminary approval of an action plan amendment allowing firms contracted to operate the small business loan and grant program to use loan proceeds to issue new loans to small businesses. LRA board member Matt Stuller recommended the change as it was requested by firms so they could recycle loan proceeds and issue more loans as resources become available.

Before adjourning the morning session, the board heard an update from the state's Office of Community Development (OCD) and the state's contractor, ICF International, on the Road Home homeowner assistance program.

As of today, the program has received more than 107,000 applications and held more than 75,000 in-person appointments. Nearly 30,000 benefit option letters have been sent to homeowners with grants averaging just over $80,000 and totaling $2.73 billion in benefits. Out of the nearly 16,000 homeowners that have returned their award letters, more than 13,200 have chosen to stay and rebuild in Louisiana.

During the afternoon session, Governor Blanco's Executive Assistant on Coastal Affairs, Sidney Coffee, presented a draft Coastal Master Plan from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Later, Mayor Nagin's Executive Director of Recovery, Dr. Ed Blakely, addressed the board regarding the City's planning activities.

LRA Long Term Community Planning Task Force Chair Donna Fraiche provided an update on the Louisiana Speaks regional planning polling process. The LA Speaks outreach campaign, which concluded on Saturday, February 10th, sought to engage citizens across South Louisiana on a range of issues including community growth, transportation, coastal protection and economic development. The responses generated from this unprecedented, privately-funded outreach campaign will serve as the foundation for the LA Speaks Regional Vision.

Spanning parishes from the Texas to Mississippi border (including the Houma/Thibodaux, New Orleans, North Shore, Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles metro areas), the LA Speaks Regional Vision will provide the framework for local and parish plans to thrive in and serve as a guide for South Louisiana's long-term recovery and future growth over the next 50 years.

In all, more than:

* 500,000 Louisiana Speaks newsletters were distributed throughout South Louisiana
* 500 print, radio and TV paid advertisements were broadcasted across the region
* 204 community polling stations were established through public libraries & coffee shops
* 100 public meetings were held with citizens, community leaders & elected officials
* 50 broadcasts of the one-hour TV special, "Our Voice. Our Plan. Our Future." including multiple broadcasts in Houston, Dallas and Atlanta
* Four editorial endorsements received from newspapers across the state
* One million e-mails sent by LA Speaks and supporting businesses, churches, and community organizations

In addition, public school curriculum project was created for all students in K-12 public schools and circulated through Louisiana Public Broadcasting's teacher network. Comprehensive data and analysis from this initiative will be presented to the LRA and made available to the public. Details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Before concluding, LRA board member Sean Reilly updated the board on upcoming state legislative issues, including the LRA Support Organization's research efforts on a state catastrophic insurance fund.

Board resolutions and presentations for the board meeting are available on the LRA website at www.lra.louisiana.gov <http://www.lra.louisiana.gov> .

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, claiming 1,464 lives, destroying more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the planning and coordinating body that was created in the aftermath of these storms by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.


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