FEMA forgives loans to Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany sheriff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has forgiven the community disaster loans it made to Jefferson Parish and to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office after Hurricane Katrina, Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office announced Tuesday.

The cancellation frees Jefferson Parish of having to repay its original $54.8 million loan and the $11.1 million in interest the loan has accrued, Parish President John Young said.

The St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office is relieved of repaying a $9.9 million loan.

The news comes after several years of wrangling with FEMA over eligibility requirements that had excluded many southeast Louisiana governments, sheriff’s offices and other organizations from having their loans forgiven.

Landrieu succeeded earlier this year in changing what her office called a flawed formula that prevented the cancellation of $286.7 million in community disaster loans in southeast Louisiana.

Among other things, the old FEMA formula required that organizations demonstrate a revenue loss in the three years following a disaster. That requirement posed a problem for places such as Jefferson Parish, where post-storm spending caused a short-term bump in sales tax collections.

Landrieu’s rule change was added to the 2013 Homeland Security Appropriations bill.

Thursday’s news came one day after Landrieu announced that St. Tammany Parish’s $14.5 million disaster loan had been canceled.

“I’m doing a lot better than I was this morning,” Young said Thursday evening after receiving the news. “It’s a tremendously positive development.”

Young said he had been working on getting the loans forgiven for three years, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

With the forgiveness, Jefferson no longer will have to take money from other services to put in a fund dedicated to repayment, Young said.

“It’s not going to create a windfall,” he said. “But we were having to put money away every year to try to pay it back. Now we won’t have that hanging over our heads.”

Jefferson Parish intends to increase its reserves and give parish employees a raise of up to 3 percent as a result of the cancellation, Young said.

St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain praised Landrieu for her persistence.

“In a time when it appears Washington, D.C., has become completely dysfunctional, Sen. Mary Landrieu has been able to navigate the legislative process to save the taxpayers of St. Tammany Parish million of dollars,” Strain said in a statement. “The Sheriff’s Office, and therefore the taxpayers of our parish, will directly benefit from Sen. Landrieu’s efforts.”