BATON ROUGE, LA - For homeowners like Mark Rabalais, it’s a dream come true now that a potential fix for duplication of benefits now making its way through Congress. If the Senate signs on to what the House has already approved, he and so many still waiting on recovery money will be one step closer to closure.
“It’s like the citizens won for a change,” said Rabalais.
Right after the August 2016 flood, Rabalais got some money from FEMA, but it wasn’t enough to get back into his home. He was forced to dip into his retirement funds to rebuild his house and, like many, applied for an SBA loan. Because he did not want an extra bill, he decided to decline.
“I didn’t want another note. My house had been paid for five or six years and I didn’t want to go through that procedure again,” said Rabalais. “If you subtract the SBA, it’ll leave about $35,000 that they still owe me.”
It’s a decision that unfortunately cost him when Restore Louisiana rolled around. Even though Rabalais turned down the SBA loan, just by applying, his reimbursement from the state was slashed. The Restore Louisiana program only payed him about $11,000 which is less than 20 percent of his total repair costs.
It’s something Rabalais knew was not right, so he decided to not give up and instead got his elected representatives involved.
“It’s tragic and overwhelming is about the only thing I can say,” Rabalais added. “I decided to continue to pursue it.”
“I think it is an awful federal policy and it just penalizes people who don’t deserve to be penalized,” said Representative Garret Graves.
Graves expects the vote to clear up that policy to happen this week. If approved, it will go to the president for approval and then Governor John Bel Edwards can make the request to have those funds released to those who need them. After more than two years of countless phone calls and endless amounts of paperwork, the end is in sight and the experience has taught a valuable lesson in patience that Rabalais says he has learned, even at 76-years-old.
“If you stick with something that you believe in long enough and follow the right channels and do the right things, good things happen,” said Rabalais.
Graves says he plans to meet with members of the Restore Louisiana Task Force Tuesday to start figuring out how reimbursements will be distributed.
On Monday, Gov. Edwards announced to Restore LA program will reopen its survey until October 19. The formal application deadline will be extended until November 16.
The update comes in response to a pending agreement reached by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to address the policy that currently considers Small Business Administration (SBA) loans to be a Duplication of Benefits (DOB) for federal grant funds, preventing many flood survivors from receiving the assistance needed to rebuild.
“We have been fighting to remove this federal impediment so that the Restore Louisiana program could provide assistance to more homeowners as they struggle to recover from the devastating floods of 2016,” said Gov. Edwards. “Given the pending agreement reached in Congress, we want to give homeowners more time to complete the program survey and application to provide as many flood survivors with the assistance that should have been available to them from day one. As we await the final vote by Congress, I want to thank our Congressional delegation – especially Congressmen Garret Graves and Cedric Richmond, and Senator Bill Cassidy – for their leadership in providing this much-needed relief to the people of our state and so many others affected by this federal policy. My administration is closely tracking this legislation and taking proactive steps to prepare a waiver requesting relief to be submitted to President Trump once this change is official.”
All homeowners impacted by the flood who received SBA loans and have not yet taken the survey should do so immediately, regardless of of income level or repairs already made. The survey can be taken online here, or homeowners can call 1-866-735-2001 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Homeowners may also visit one of the Housing Assistance Centers in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Lafayette, and Monroe. All centers are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.