Louisiana Flood Victims and the Duplication of Benefits Trap
The August 2016 “Great Flood” impacted more than 145,000 households in Louisiana, with over 41.5% of the population in nine parishes flooded. The estimated damage to homes exceeded $30.4 billion. In the Capital Region, 34.8% of businesses were affected and in one of the hardest hit areas, Livingston Parish, 91% of the businesses and 94% of the employees were impacted by the catastrophic flooding.
Victims of the catastrophic flooding event are eligible for federal disaster recovery programs designed to provide various forms of financial aid. Here’s the rub: Under the Stafford Act, which provides the legal framework for federal response activities overseen by FEMA, there is a general prohibition that “no such person, business concern, or other entity will receive such assistance with respect to any part of such loss as to which he has received financial assistance under any other program or from insurance or any other source.” That provision has widely been interpreted to prevent victims from accessing multiple forms of federal assistance. Most commonly, flood victims who have taken SBA loans have been deemed ineligible for federal grant dollars. This, of course, makes little sense as a loan and a grant are two different things.
On October 5, 2018, after considerable legislative wrangling, the law was amended to remove the statutory barrier and permit individuals who received or applied for an SBA to also be eligible for grants. Great news, right? Unfortunately, despite the change, the federal government has been slow to implement the change and its policies do not reflect the amended law. In effect, Louisianans are still stuck in the duplication of benefits trap. Federal agencies simply must move quicker so that we can completely recover from the Great Flood.