State pressing for larger share of Isaac aid money

Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana one year ago Wednesday, but state officials are still pressing for the federal government to cover a larger percentage of the recovery costs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is continuing to process recovery expenses to determine if the damages and recovery costs will hit a threshold that triggers the federal government covering 90 percent of the costs. But until that time comes, the state, parishes and others remain responsible for 25 percent of the costs with FEMA covering three-quarters of the pie.

FEMA has processed $516.8 million in damages thus far, but the mathematical formula requires $593.8 million in damages to hit the 90 percent cost sharing threshold, said Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Davis said Tuesday he is “very confident” costs will eventually exceed $600 million and trigger the 90 percent cost sharing because more than $100 million in damages have yet to be fully vetted and processed. So it is just a matter of slowly going through the project worksheets and getting everything formally “obligated.”

When the hurricane hit, Gov. Bobby Jindal asked the White House to waive the regulatory threshold and automatically initiate the larger federal cost sharing. But the federal government instead opted to follow its standard process.

In doing so, Davis said, the recovery process is slowed down somewhat. There is more paperwork involved and state and local governments have to cover larger costs in the meantime, he said.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said the larger federal share “absolutely” would help substantially.

“Every time we’re getting a little extra cash, we’re stashing it away to pay that 75-25 (split),” Nungesser said.

The hurricane and extra costs represent a “double hit” for areas like Plaquemines Parish because the parish is suffering permanent population losses in some areas like Braithwaite, which was badly flooded, and having to deal with smaller tax revenue bases, he said.

Davis said it would have been nice for Louisiana to catch a break after suffering through hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and then Isaac in less than a decade.

Still, Davis argued the recovery process has moved along well.

“The goal is to be resilient and built better and stronger, and we’ve proved that,” he said.

David originally said he had hoped the threshold would have been crossed in January. In February, he predicted it would be hit in April. Davis noted that Hurricane Sandy hitting the northeastern U.S. caused FEMA to temporarily withdraw a lot of its “on-the-ground” resources in Louisiana and delayed things.

Now, Davis said he hopes the larger FEMA cost sharing will kick in near the begining of November.

“We’re getting there,” he said.