Jan. 6, 2017 02:41 PM
Louisiana is submitting its plan Friday to spend $438 million in federal flood aid, and Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration says money should begin flowing for recovery work by April.

Nearly all the money under the plan being sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, about $406 million, is earmarked for homeowners' repairs from the March and August floods.

Pat Forbes, the governor's leader on disaster recovery, said an estimated 4,000 households will share in that money, only a fraction of the 112,000 homes estimated to have been damaged by last year's floods. The dollars will go to elderly and disabled residents in low- to moderate-income households without flood insurance.

The remaining slices of the financing will pay for assistance to renters and businesses.

HUD must agree to the spending. Forbes doesn't expect that to be a problem because his office has worked with the federal agency on devising the flood recovery plans.

Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, have criticized Edwards for moving too slowly to distribute the aid, which was allocated by Congress in September.

The Edwards administration blames a lengthy federal regulatory process over which the state has no control, saying its submission of a disaster recovery spending plan was faster than similar plans for hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac.

"It's frustrating to us, that the federal process takes so long," said Julie Baxter Payer, one of Edwards' deputy chiefs of staff.

Congress recently earmarked another $1.2 billion in block grant recovery aid for Louisiana. Edwards is scheduled Friday afternoon to discuss details of his proposal for spending that money, also largely for homeowners.

HUD has to publish its regulations for the money before the state can formally submit a plan to spend it, Forbes said.

The administration wants to use $900 million for homeowner repair and rebuilding work, $80 million for rental housing programs, $50 million for business and agriculture assistance and $105 million to pay for state and local governments' recovery costs.

With the second pool of funding, the Edwards administration estimates another 32,000 homeowners with major damage from the flooding can receive rebuilding assistance.

Still, the Edwards administration said the money is woefully short of what is needed for a full recovery. The governor has requested another $2 billion in disaster recovery block grant aid above what has been received from Congress. Louisiana's congressional delegation members have said they'll continue to press for more money.

"We know that, as of right now, we're not helping enough people," Payer said.

The priority for spending the combined $1.6 billion available, Forbes said, is on making sure the most heavily-damaged communities and neighborhoods don't collapse, unable to recover.