Louisiana senators talk drainage, post-storm relief, capitol riot fallout

Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 7:51 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - More than nine months after Hurricane Laura, calls for disaster relief continue in Southwest Louisiana. With the recent floods and ongoing calls for drainage improvement, state lawmakers say the clock is ticking.

Both Louisiana Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy feel the recent approval of a disaster declaration is a big step forward for Southwest Louisiana, but there’s still so much at stake and more to be done to address the challenges that homeowners face.

”It isn’t just the federal government resources that are required, but homeowners are saying it is private insurance companies who are delaying payment,” Cassidy said. “That combined with a shortage of labor and a high cost of materials is retarding the process.”

Drainage funding has been the big topic following last month’s flood and the basis for an emergency city council meeting in Lake Charles.

READ MORE: Mayor Hunter asks for support on drainage funding

”If this is just raining, imagine if we have another hurricane,” said a local homeowner.

That inquiry along with calls for a federal relief package for Hurricane Laura garnered various responses from both senators as to why it’s taking so long for approval.

”Part of the problem in getting it done is there were not as many disasters over the last year. We had some in Louisiana, but they weren’t generally distributed across the nation,” Cassidy said. “Previous disaster supplementals addressed the needs of many states. If you have to have 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation, we don’t have the requisite number of states to step up and support, but we’re continuing to work hard with those senators.”

”It’s customary for the president to send over a request. I’m not saying he’s going to ultimately say no, I’m just saying he hasn’t given us an answer,” Kennedy said.

At the local level, buyouts and borrows are on the table to help fix the drainage problems, and on the federal level, FEMA has been in the hot seat regarding its new 2.0 rating system that could potentially raise the price of flood insurance premiums.

”They’re trying to ram this rate increase through without consulting the U.S. Congress, without telling anybody how they came up with it and talking about the importance of mitigation,” Kennedy said.

FEMA is initiating Risk Rating 2.0, a new rating system for NFIP. Risk Rating 2.0 is scheduled to go into effect for new NFIP policies on Oct. 1, 2021. New rates for existing NFIP policyholders will go into effect on April 1, 2022. The new rating system would change the way premium rates are calculated, potentially making flood insurance unaffordable for Louisiana families in flood-prone areas.

Kennedy wrote to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) this April requesting a hearing to examine Risk Rating 2.0 and recently spoke out against the new rating system on the Senate floor.

In a special emergency drainage meeting Tuesday, Lake Charles City Council considered an ordinance to:

  • Amend the current fiscal year budget and authorize using an additional $3 million in drainage funds initially reserved for the 2022 fiscal year.
  • Submit a resolution to authorize borrowing up to $20 million to pay for immediate drainage needs.
  • Allow Mayor Nic Hunter to issue a request for proposals to hire a program director to help with cleaning and repairing the city’s above- and below-ground drainage networks.

Hunter said the City will seek reimbursement from several different sources, such as FEMA and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

“This situation reaches a high level of urgency,” said Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter. “Due to the string of recent, catastrophic weather events, we cannot continue to wait any longer, doing projects as annual funding allocations allow. It is critical that we tackle this issue citywide in the quickest, most efficient way possible.”

The Flood Mitigation Assistance Program is a competitive grant program that provides funding to states, local communities, federally recognized tribes, and territories. Funds can be used for projects that reduce or eliminate the risk of repetitive flood damage to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA published the following summary of applications and sub-applications received for the 2020 Hazard Mitigation Assistance annual non-disaster grant cycle:

Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program
Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program((Source: KPLC))

For this FMA grant cycle, $200 million is available. FEMA received requests for $472 million in applications.

The question now is how much and what will be prioritized for local governments. Louisiana alone makes up about $130 million worth of requests for flood mitigation help.

Click HERE to read current storm-related legislation proposed by Sen. Kennedy

Click HERE to read current storm-related legislation proposed by Sen. Cassidy

Cassidy introduced the Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act which provides for a National Disaster Safety Board in response to disasters. Kennedy recently introduced S.B. 1960, a bill that would restrict the ability of the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to adjust the rates for flood insurance coverage under the National Flood Insurance Program and for other purposes.

Jan. 6th Riot Report

While talking to reporters, Sen. Cassidy said he’s convinced the ball was dropped related to the pre-riot intelligence.

“It was clearly a massive intelligence failure, a massive failure of intelligence and the implied failure of leadership not to bring in the appropriate resources to address the issues. Now, I am on record supporting the Jan. 6th Commission,” Cassidy said.

“This suggestion by Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi that we are somehow ignoring what happened on Jan. 6th is political nonsense,” Kennedy said. “What happened on Jan. 6th was despicable and everybody that violated the sanctity of this building should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

The proposed bipartisan commission didn’t have enough support from other GOP senators. Cassidy says an independent panel is more likely to thoroughly investigate everything concerning the riot.

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