WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it will be releasing more than $106 million in federal grants to Louisiana for Hurricane Isaac relief efforts. Jefferson Parish is getting $16.4 million; New Orleans, $15 million; and St. Tammany Parish, $8.9 million.
The state of Louisiana is getting $66.4 million, with a mandate that at least 80 percent of the money go to the parishes hardest hit by Hurricane Isaac. That should mean a significant portion, if not the entire allocation, would go to Plaquemines, and St. John the Baptist parishes.
The funding from the federal Community and Development Block Grant program for Isaac damage was added to the $50 billion supplemental spending bill for Hurricane Sandy by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Landrieu also included language streamlining the approval process for projects.
"As I worked with my colleagues on a Sandy recovery bill, I made it clear that Isaac-affected communities in Louisiana would not get left behind," Landrieu said. "Now, because of this legislation, Louisiana will receive nearly $107 million in federal funds for important recovery projects."
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said he'll push the state to send its entire $66 million allocation to his parish and St. John.
"That's only right because that's where most of the damage was," Nungesser said.
Jefferson Parish President John Young and St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister thanked Landrieu for securing the HUD grant
"I am delighted with the news regarding the direct funding for St. Tammany's disaster recovery needs," Brister said. "We are already putting plans in place to take full advantage of the program. It will mean a great deal to the people of St. Tammany."
St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said the grant money is desperately needed.
"We're looking forward to getting our grant and any other help we can get so we can get back on our feet and help our homeowners recover," Robottom said. "Unfortunately, in addition to the hurricane damages, our homeowners also face increased flood insurance premiums without elevation or protection for their homes."
Holly Fonseca, who oversees federal and state grants for St. Charles Parish, said she is hoping her parish will benefit from the HUD grant, as well.
Under rules for the Community Development Block Grant program, money flows directly to the larger government entities, such as Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes. But smaller parishes, like St. Charles, Plaquemines and St. John, receive their grants from the state.
Under the 2013 emergency spending bill, Congress appropriated some $16 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding.
President Barack Obama signed the disaster bill into law on January, 29 and eight days later HUD released $5.4 billion to five states and the city of New York for damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
HUD officials said they will shortly publish a notice that will spell out how the Louisiana funds can be used. State and local grant recipients then will finalize disaster "action plans," describing how they intend to use the funds, and the agency has promised a quick review process.
"In the last two years, many communities have had to deal with the reality of our changing climate and the increasing severity off natural disasters," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "HUD is continuing to work closely with state and local partners to help them realize a locally driven vision for restoring and rebuilding housing, infrastructure and businesses that have been affected."
Landrieu, a member of the Senate Appropriations committee, had insisted that the block grant funding be flexible, including a provision that allows local governments to use their block grant funding as the local share for larger projects that rely on federal funding.
Despite widespread support for an emergency aid package after Hurricane Sandy devastated the Northeast last October, it was tough to get the bill through the Republican-led House. The House balked at an earlier more expensive bill, which included some loan forgiveness provisions for Hurricane Katrina.
It later approved a smaller package, without the loan guarantees, by a vote of 241-180, with three Louisiana members -- Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, John Fleming, R-Minden, and Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, voting no. The three Louisiana members said they wanted spending offsets for the disaster assistance. Landrieu, Sen. David Vitter,R-La., and Reps. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans; Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman; and Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; supported the bill.
'This is great news for the families in Louisiana and the communities that have endured the impact of Hurricane Isaac," Richmond said. "I am pleased with the funding announced today and thankful for HUD's continued investment in our state."
Just last week, Congress voted for more flexible rules that are expected to enable Louisiana communities, particularly St. Tammany and Jefferson Parish, as well as the New Orleans Sewerage and Water board, to get forgiveness from repaying federal disaster loans for hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- forgiveness that Louisiana congressional members say has long been part of the FEMA program.