Floodwaters reach the front steps of a home near Holden, Louisiana.

Floodwaters reach the front steps of a home near Holden, Louisiana. AP Photo/Max Becherer

More Federal Agencies Reach Out to Louisiana Flood Victims

HUD, Agriculture and SBA are among agencies offering disaster assistance.

The Housing and Urban Development Department is expediting housing disaster relief aid to flood-ravaged Louisiana, including rebuilding grants, mortgage insurance for homeowners and assistance to low-income renters.

“Families who may have been forced from their homes need to know that help is available to begin the rebuilding process,” said HUD Secretary Julian Castro on Wednesday. “Whether it’s foreclosure relief for FHA-insured families or helping these counties to recover, HUD stands ready to help in any way we can.”

The department said it was talking to state and local officials in Louisiana to see if they could streamline the Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs to speed the repair and replacement of damaged housing. The CDBG program in particular played a major role in helping to rebuild New Orleans and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The federal grants are a favorite among state and local officials because they can be used for a variety of rebuilding and development projects.

HUD also is granting storm victims a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearance on foreclosures for home mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration; providing FHA mortgage assistance to those who have lost their homes and have to rebuild; and offering federally-guaranteed loans to the state and local governments for housing rehab, economic development, and public infrastructure repair. The department also announced that it “will share information with FEMA and the state on housing providers that may have available units in the impacted counties,” including public housing agencies.

The excessive rainfall that battered Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi between Aug. 11 and Aug. 14 has affected tens of thousands of people and homes in the Gulf Coast region, and has killed at least 13 people. More than 20 inches of rain fell within 72 hours in some parts of southeastern and south central Louisiana. Approximately 20,000 people have been rescued by first responders and agencies including the Coast Guard and the Louisiana National Guard; roughly 86,000 residents already have applied for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. President Obama has declared 20 Louisiana parishes in the Baton Rouge area major disasters, making them eligible for federal assistance.

FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have been urging affected residents to apply for disaster assistance as soon as possible. FEMA is only one of several agencies that administer disaster assistance: At the federal level alone, there are dozens of programs that deal somehow with disaster relief and recovery stemming from natural disasters and terrorism, spanning at least 14 agencies, according to the website DisasterAssistance.gov.

The Agriculture Department also has released a fact sheet listing all the forms of disaster assistance it offers ranging from crop insurance to farm emergency loans and debris removal. And the Small Business Administration on Thursday opened a business recovery center in Walker, Louisiana, to help small businesses owners navigate the types of disaster assistance available from that agency.

“Consultants at the center will provide counseling on a wide variety of matters designed to help small business owners re-establish their operations, overcome the effects of the disaster and plan for their future,” according to an SBA press release. “Services include assessing business economic injury, evaluating the business’s strength, cash flow projections and most importantly, a review of all options to ensure each business makes decisions that are appropriate for its situation.” 

The Advocate, a Louisiana news outlet based in Baton Rouge, published an Aug. 17 editorial urging President Obama – who has been vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard -- to visit the disaster area. “Sometimes, presidential visits can get in the way of emergency response, doing more harm than good,” the op-ed said. “But we don’t see that as a factor now that flood waters are subsiding, even if at an agonizing pace.”

Referring to Hurricane Katrina and the inattention the disaster received from government, politicians, and much of the country in the disaster’s immediate aftermath, Advocate editors wrote: “We’ve seen this story before in Louisiana, and we don’t deserve a sequel. In 2005, a fly-over by a vacationing President George W. Bush became a symbol of official neglect for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited Baton Rouge on Thursday. For updates on federal disaster response and recovery efforts in Louisiana, click here.