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'Punch in the gut': Lake Charles officials say federal aid package isn't enough.

 Hurricane Laura damage. Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, La.
Bill Feig
AP Photo Pool
Hurricane Laura damage. Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Lake Charles, La.

More than a year after three natural disasters -- including hurricanes and extreme flooding events -- pummeled Southwest Louisiana, the federal government is moving forward with a disaster relief package which will send $595 million to Calcasieu Parish for recovery, the Associated Press reports.

But the money is just a fraction of what’s needed to help Lake Charles fully recover, according to state and local officials. Governor John Bel Edwards’ office estimates that around $3 billion is still needed for Calcasieu Parish.

Officials also expressed frustration with how long it’s taken to make any progress in getting aid.

“We will do everything that we can with the money we are given to make sure that there is a complete and robust recovery, but it will be very challenging to do that with $595 million,” Edwards said.

Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter told American Press that the money will “make a dent” in storm victims’ housing needs, but the estimated total cost of housing is closer to $900 million. Hunter also pointed out that the aid isn’t allocated for damages caused by extreme winter weather this February or the floods Southwest Louisiana suffered this May.

“I’m thankful it’s something, but it’s just really like a punch in the gut. It makes you feel like we’re less American,” Hunter said.

The relief will come from a federal fund created by legislation passed in September which nearly resulted in a federal government shutdown. The fund totals $5 billion set aside for long-term disaster relief efforts. $1.6 billion of that fund will be disbursed to states for all 2020 disasters, of which Lake Charles will receive about 37%.

Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Brian Abshire said in a statement that the relief bill was “diluted” by federal politics, according to AP.

“This feel-good bill makes no one but the federal politicians actually feel good, and it will do very little for Calcasieu Parish,” Abshire said. “We will continue to fight for what our residents need, and, frankly, what our residents deserved a year ago.”

FEMA helped provide temporary shelters in the region, but Lake Charles hasn’t seen any federal aid for long-term recovery yet, even though each storm received federal disaster classification.

Former President Donald Trump visited Lake Charles last August after Hurricane Laura.

“Here we are today and you’re going to have this situation taken care of very, very quickly,” he told residents.

President Joe Biden visited the city this May to promote his infrastructure plan, promising residents that his American Jobs Plan would help revitalize infrastructure nationwide.

Despite over a year of community leaders demanding that the federal government make good on its promises, Calcasieu Parish still has no clear avenue to full recovery.

Aubry is a reporter, producer and operations assistant in Baton Rouge.