[StBernard] Our Views: Filling a gap in federal aid

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun May 20 12:13:26 EDT 2007

Advocate Opinion page staff
Published: May 20, 2007 - Page: 6b
One of the worst-kept secrets in state government is that the Road Home
program might very well run short of money, a lot of it, before it runs out
of people needing rebuilding grants for their homes.

This looming problem, to the extent it could be discovered from often-opaque
reports from the program's contractor, was discussed publicly months ago by
the Louisiana Recovery Authority. Right now, the shortfall might be as much
as $4 billion.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-Kenner, caused a bit of a media firestorm by
writing to the governor and legislative leaders about the issue. He said
the state should take "appropriate action" in the legislative session.

This implies using some of the state's unbudgeted money, part of the
hurricane recovery windfall, to fill the shortfall.

The furor over Jindal's letter was unfortunate. So many people are
traumatized by the problems of recovery and the bureaucracy of the Road
Home. Jindal's letter, though apparently not intended for publication, ended
up inflaming a sensitive situation.

The congressman might hardly be on speaking terms with the governor, but he
could have picked up the phone and called a few other folks to learn about
the complexities of this situation before further agitating homeowners. It's
not clear yet how all the numbers for Road Home grants will play out.

Whatever the final number, the state has a strong case for more aid from the
federal government for this purpose.

Generally, we believe federal aid probably is nearly tapped out for
Louisiana. And it's vital that state leaders - not least the governor, the
Legislature, and Jindal, a leading candidate for governor - appreciate how
much Louisiana must begin to deal with recovery problems using our own

But because the federal government, particularly through hurricane recovery
coordinator Donald Powell, was so deeply involved in the genesis of the Road
Home program, we believe the U.S. government has an obligation to provide
enough money so that homeowners get the aid they were promised.

Powell helped the state a great deal by cajoling Congress into providing an
additional $4.2 billion in aid, once he was convinced by the LRA and others
that the housing repair crisis in Louisiana was simply beyond the scope of
the original appropriations split among Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

But everyone - and not the least Powell, a Texas banker - understood that an
unprecedented aid program was being launched based on the best estimates
available at the time. Further, all concerned knew, or should have known,
the Road Home would be funded by using $1.17 billion in mitigation funds
provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Part of the potential Road Home shortfall is caused by FEMA pulling the rug
from under the state by saying the mitigation money can't be used in the
Road Home grants. This is the sort of bureaucratic foul-up that gives FEMA
the reputation that it has. If it's not fixed, that would balloon the
shortfall to about $4 billion.

But that still doesn't address the $2.9 billion net deficit in the Road
Home, and we believe the federal government ought to help out. Lately, the
Democratic leadership in Congress has been trying to make political hay out
of President Bush's general mismanagement of the Katrina and Rita crises.
But the Democrats haven't been successful in delivering any new aid, despite
breast-beating about the urgency of the situation.

The homeowners who might be left hanging deserve better from all of them.

Louisiana's own plan for a comprehensive recovery program was rejected by
the White House. Powell, representing the White House, was intimately
involved in development of Road Home as an alternative.

If this program founders because of a shortfall in a federally inspired
program, how is Louisiana to cope? The money for all sorts of rebuilding
would be soaked up by the Road Home shortfall. If the state can't afford to
rebuild schools, roads, sewers, libraries - the basics of communities - the
Road Home would lead nowhere.

The U.S. government cannot allow that. If it does, Powell will go down in
history as the government's undertaker for an entire region of the United

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