‘Fix’ for duplication of benefits could be coming soon

Last August, Nolan lived in Denham Springs, Louisiana when historic flooding ravaged the area....
Last August, Nolan lived in Denham Springs, Louisiana when historic flooding ravaged the area. (Source: File video)
Updated: Sep. 23, 2018 at 10:58 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The 2016 August flood left thousands across the state literally picking up the pieces to their life. The last thing on a flood victim’s minds was taking out a loan to rebuild.

“These are people who have potentially lost everything," says Congressman Garrett Graves. “On top of their mortgage, they have to have a loan payment that maybe didn’t even give them enough money to rebuild their home.”

Homeowners applied and received a Small Business Administration loan only to find out that simply applying stopped them from getting more money from the Restore Louisiana Program.

“It presumes that a loan and grant are actually duplicative of one another,” Congressman Graves explains. “This is just really an awful policy that has been a real disservice to disaster victims.”

Policymakers across the state have long been trying to change the disaster-relief policy since many are still not in their homes.

“This duplication of benefits for SBA loans has been probably the biggest complaint we’ve had from folks we’re trying to help all over the state,” says Pat Forbes, Executive Director for Louisiana Office of Community Development.

Since several bills to create a fix have been overlooked. Lawmakers tacked it onto an unrelated Federal Aviation Administration bill. If passed, lawmakers are a step closer to helping remove SBA loans as a duplication of benefits.

“The amount of time this has taken is unacceptable, let’s be clear on that,” the congressman says. “It’s been completely unacceptable that this thing has been bogged down for so long. We’ve been working on this for a long time. We have been negotiating with Republicans, Democrats, the House, and Senate. I want to remind you, this is not a partisan issue, this affects everyone.”

It’s unclear when Congress will vote, but if approved thousands will have the potential to access money from the Restore program that’s basically sitting in the bank.

“Consequently, they’ve had little or no resources to rebuild their home. For those families, this is going to be critically important,” Forbes says. “They’re not back in their homes yet because they knew they couldn’t afford that loan and we couldn’t give them a grant.”

Forbes says over 6,000 households will have access to another $215 million that will help potentially help with rebuilding.

“We had to roll some heads and knock some heads in order to get to where we are now, but we have everything lined up,” Congressman Graves says. “I expect this bill will pass.”

Congressman Graves says he is scheduled to have a meeting with the Restore Task Force Tuesday morning to discuss moving forward to ensure those eligible for additional funds, have access as soon as possible.

Forbes says for those that applied for Restore and were denied since you’ve already gone through the gone through damage assessment and eligibility requirements, that won’t have to be repeated.

“Essentially, we would recalculate their grant. No longer counting the SBA loan as a duplication. So that it means it doesn’t get subtracted from their grant amount,” Forbes says.

Additional steps might be necessary to access the funds, but Forbes says his office has long been prepared for this development.

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