- Associated Press - Friday, October 14, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. John Bel Edwards’ chief disaster recovery adviser said Friday he expects the lion’s share of the $438 million in Louisiana’s federal flood recovery aid will be spent on housing assistance for low- to moderate-income homeowners.

“These low- to moderate-income communities are the most likely to be devastated by flooding, least likely to be eligible for (disaster recovery) loans, least likely to have flood insurance,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of the Office of Community Development.

Forbes outlined available types of housing assistance programs to a flood recovery task force created by the governor to devise plans for spending the flexible disaster money allocated by Congress last month and any additional block grant aid that may follow.

His data showed an estimated 115,000 homeowners with federally-verified damage from the catastrophic flooding that ravaged south Louisiana in August and earlier flooding that hit north and central Louisiana in March. About 26,000 of those - or 23 percent - were classified as low- to moderate-income homeowners with home damage considered major or severe.

The presentation was aimed at starting a discussion about how to divvy up the aid. The Edwards administration and the task force can’t yet set a detailed course for spending, however.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development hasn’t published rules governing the aid, which will limit where and how the dollars can be used. Forbes expects the guidelines to require 70 percent of the money to be spent on low- to moderate-income assistance.

HUD also must sign off on the state’s spending plans after they are developed before the money can start going out.

The block grant aid is in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars in traditional FEMA grants and disaster recovery loans that have been distributed to flood victims in Louisiana.

Louisiana officials have made it clear they feel the $438 million is only a “down payment” on unmet recovery needs they say reach up to $2.8 billion, to help homeowners, renters and businesses.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves told the task force they hope Congress will provide more aid in December. Both urged the group to devise a list of the state’s remaining needs - and to show Louisiana is moving quickly to disperse the recovery dollars already provided from Washington.

“I just want to urge that it’s going to probably be much easier for our negotiations - or better for our negotiations holistically - if we’ve got a plan submitted very clear on how these dollars are going to be spent,” Graves said.

Asked if Hurricane Matthew’s damage to southern states will hamper Louisiana’s request for additional aid, Cassidy replied that he thought it could help by having more members of Congress working to earmark the funding.

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