(The Center Square) – Long-awaited supplemental natural disaster aid is on its way to Louisiana after Congress passed a short-term funding bill Thursday that includes $28.6 billion in nationwide disaster relief.
Louisiana’s congressional delegation has sought aid on numerous occasions for multiple declared natural disasters dating back to August 2020. More recently, the delegation pursued aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which made landfall Aug. 29.
Every effort has come up short until Thursday, when federal lawmakers approved a continuing resolution that will fund the federal government until Dec. 3, 2021. The disaster relief package was included in the bill, which will benefit Louisiana.
The Senate passed the funding legislation before House approval. If the measure failed, the government would have run out of money and shutdown at midnight.
Both of Louisiana's U.S. senators supported the legislation.
“Louisiana will finally get the disaster relief we need,” U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said. “This is critical for our communities and people to rebuild their lives. It took too long, especially for those in southwest Louisiana, but getting this done is a huge win for our state.”
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the funding bill would send much-needed aid to Louisiana and extend the National Flood Insurance Program without raising the nation’s debt limit, a key issue in ongoing budget negotiations.
“If you even glance at the storm damage levied on Louisiana over the last year, you know our people need disaster relief,” Kennedy said. “I’m thankful the Senate did the right thing by voting to send aid to our state, extend the flood insurance program Louisianians depend on and keep the government open.”
Kennedy criticized political gamesmanship on the Senate floor earlier this week when the disaster relief was tied to a controversial debt ceiling provision, which ultimately was removed.
“Why are we fighting over this?” he asked. “It’s moronic for us to be having this fight when it’s so easily solved.”
U.S. Rep. Garrett Graves, a Republican whose district is in Ida-affected southwest Louisiana, announced his supporting vote on social media.
“I voted yes for disaster aid,” Graves said. “We have folks living in tents back home without electricity while politicians are arguing in [Washington] about how many tens of trillions in debt is an acceptable amount when mortgaging our children and grandchildren’s future."
Republican congressmen Steve Scalise and Mike Johnson were the only members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation to vote against the funding resolution, which passed the Senate, 65-35, and the House, 254-175.
"As we continue this vital funding for education, health, housing, and public safety programs, we are also providing $28.6 billion to assist survivors of recent disasters and $6.3 billion to support Afghanistan evacuees after the end of 20 years of war,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.
Supplemental aid was first requested for Hurricane Laura, a category 4 storm that hit southwest Louisiana on Aug. 27, 2020. Within two months, hurricanes Delta and Zeta slammed into the state, followed by a winter storm early this year and a disaster flooding event in May. After Hurricane Ida last month, Tropical Storm Nicholas brought rain and flooding to many Ida-impacted areas.
Recent state government committee meetings have underscored the degree of remaining storm damage. Lawmakers from the southwest region of the state said Monday residents in Cameron Parish were without electricity for more than three months after Hurricane Laura and damage to homes and businesses still persists.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter told legislators the lack of supplemental aid has greatly contributed to the problems Lake Charles has experienced since the storms began last year, including a 14% decline in public school enrollment, a 45% increase in drug overdose deaths, a 47% increase in unpaid property taxes and an 833% increase in blighted properties.
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley updated lawmakers on Hurricane Ida recovery efforts Tuesday, saying more than 70,000 students are still out of school because of storm damage to school buildings and communities in the southeast.