“Prior to and throughout the response to the 2016 floods, FEMA was a very good partner. But the transition from response to recovery is where challenges arose,” Governor John Bel Edwards told the U.S. House Oversight Committee on Flood Recovery and Governmental Affairs. He testified Wednesday in response to complaints about the pace of the recovery from August’s devastating floods across south Louisiana.
Pennsylvania Congressman Matt Cartwright, a Democrat, asked about funding.
“Congress appropriated about $437-million on September 29, 2016, for the victims of the flooding in Louisiana,” Cartwright began.
“But the money is not yet available,” Governor Edwards responded.
“Did the state of Louisiana have the resources to front this money and then seek reimbursement from the federal government later?” Cartwright inquired.
“No, I wish we had,” the governor replied. “My predecessor left me with a $2-billion state general fund deficit for the current fiscal year, and the budget is more than tight. We certainly did not.”
But committee chair Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a Republican, wasn’t buying any excuses from Louisiana’s Democratic governor.
“Governor, how many people are still displaced?” Chaffetz asked.
“Chairman, I am not certain. We have a number of individuals who are living with family members. There are, I think, 250 families still living in hotels and motels. There are a number of individuals, who – for example – under the National Flood Insurance Program haven’t had their claims paid yet,” Edwards said.
“You don’t even have a guess as to how many people are displaced?” Chaffetz demanded.
“I do not,” the governor responded.
“Are you that clueless?” asked the chairman. He then asked acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton if he knew how many Louisiana residents were still displaced. Fenton could not give an accurate count, either.
Edwards was quizzed about his not ordering evacuations, even though the predictions were for one-third of the rainfall that ultimately fell. And Louisiana’s own 6th District Congressman Garret Graves, a Republican, made it clear he differs with Louisiana’s Democratic governor.
“Governor, we’re clearly on different pages,” Graves said.
But Bossier City Congressman Mike Johnson made a valiant effort to deflect the tension.
“In Louisiana, we do recovery really well, because we have so much experience with it,” Johnson said, with a rueful grin.” It’s not because of the federal or state government. It’s because of our people, because they’re very resourceful. They’re survivors and they know what to do. They take care of one another – often in spite of the government, not because of it.”