The Trump administration has agreed to rewrite regulations to help thousands of Louisiana homeowners with damage from the 2016 floods access federal aid, the state's U.S. senators said Thursday.
Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy said that U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spoke with them and confirmed details of the fix. HUD oversees the disaster assistance money.
"We went over the parameters of the proposed rule. I'm very encouraged," Kennedy said in an interview. As many as 6,000 Louisiana residents who applied for loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration after the massive flooding three years ago have been unable to access the federally financed Restore Louisiana disaster grant program.
Receipt of both a disaster loan and grant for the same damage was prohibited as a duplication of federal benefits. Congress changed the law in October. But the Trump administration hasn't issued legal guidance to match the law changes.
Millions of dollars in aid have remained stalled for two years because of the disagreement, and many homeowners face decades of loan repayments when, otherwise, they could receive rebuilding grants to pay off that debt.
It's unclear when grant aid will start to flow to the homeowners who received the loans. The updated HUD regulations haven't yet been released.
A HUD spokesman didn't immediately respond Thursday to the senators' comments. "Rules will be released in days, but I have received assurances from Secretary Carson that if you took out an SBA loan, you will be eligible to receive a Restore Louisiana grant and have the resources you need to recover," Cassidy said in a statement. Louisiana's senators said Carson confirmed the grants will be available to pay off the loans, not just pay for repairs and rebuilding that may not have been covered by the loan amount. The process will be two-tiered, with low- to moderate-income homeowners who make below 120 percent of the area median income immediately eligible for grants.
Those making above that level will have to apply for an exemption to receive the grants, Cassidy's office said. Cassidy and Kennedy met with Carson and other White House officials to hash out the issue, and Kennedy sat down personally with President Donald Trump last month to talk about the regulatory hurdles.
Kennedy credited intervention by Trump with helping Louisiana's flood victims. But he also stopped short of calling the problem fixed, saying while he feels "really good about it," he wants to read the written regulations first. "I'll declare victory for our people when I see the rule and I see the checks being written," he said. "With that caveat, I think we're going to get this worked out."
Cassidy and Kennedy have stalled two nominees for HUD assistant secretary jobs, trying to force the release of the long-delayed legal guidance for flood victims.
Meanwhile, a Livingston Parish couple whose home was destroyed in the August 2016 flood sued the Trump administration in federal court. The couple took out an SBA loan and couldn't receive a grant.