- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 2, 2019

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s U.S. senators said they received a commitment Tuesday from the Trump administration to decide in two weeks whether to change regulations that have kept thousands of flood victims from receiving federal aid.

But Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy don’t know if they’ll get the decision they want, to start millions of dollars flowing to homeowners. Both pledged to continue seeking to free up the recovery aid sitting inaccessible for two years, if they don’t get the decision they want.

The two Republican senators met Tuesday with Russ Vought, acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to hash out an issue Louisiana’s congressional delegation thought had been solved last year.

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“The bureaucracy just has a way of slowing you down. We’re going to continue to fight it,” Cassidy said. “I’m hoping that we’re near the end of this process.”

Kennedy told reporters if the federal officials block the aid to flood victims, “then I’m going to see the president of the United States.” Cassidy agreed.

As many as 6,000 Louisiana residents who took out or requested loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration after massive flooding in Louisiana in 2016 have been unable to access a federally financed disaster grant program. Receipt of both a disaster loan and grant was deemed a prohibited duplication of federal benefits.

Congress changed the law in October so SBA loans wouldn’t count against the grants. But HUD, which oversees the disaster grant money, hasn’t issued legal guidance to match the law changes. The Office of Management and Budget must sign off on any HUD guidance, and that has become the latest stumbling block to Louisiana’s efforts to dole out the flood grants.

“I think it’s fair to say that the Office of Management and Budget has reservations about the whole policy,” Cassidy said.

State officials have waited for months, saying without federal policy changes, the Restore Louisiana program is unable to give out millions in grants. That means many of the homeowners face decades of loan repayments when, otherwise, they could receive rebuilding grants to pay off that debt. Others simply may have received no aid at all.

Cassidy said rather than comply with the “spirit of the law” passed by Congress, the federal regulations could be narrowly written to define the law in a way that keeps most Louisiana flood victims who applied for SBA loans from accessing disaster grants.

The budget office, he said, worries that people in future disasters won’t seek SBA loans and instead will wait for grants, driving up recovery costs for the federal government.

Kennedy said regulations should be easy to issue after congressional action, but he said the federal bureaucracy is “a giant rogue beast” that has obtained too much power.

“I’m tired of being screwed around, and I’m tired of my people being screwed around,” he said in a conference call.

Cassidy and Kennedy have stalled two nominees for HUD assistant secretary jobs, trying to force the release of the long-delayed legal guidance for flood victims.

A Livingston Parish couple whose home was destroyed in the August 2016 flood sued President Donald Trump’s administration in federal court, accusing HUD of foot-dragging in violation of the law passed by Congress. The couple took out an SBA disaster loan and then couldn’t receive a grant.


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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