Friday, November 10, 2006

Federal Money Watch

FEMA press release:
More than $30.1 billion in federal funds have been obligated for Louisiana residents in Individual and Public Assistance programs, National Flood Insurance claims and SBA housing money as the state continues to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
How FEMA arrives at that number:
$5.2 billion – Individual and household assistance
+
$4.2 billion – Public assistance
+
$6.7 billion – SBA loans
+
$14 billion – Flood insurance claims
=
$30.1 billion
That’s a lot of money. I am not complaining. But that $30.1 billion number doesn’t accurately portray the federal government’s investment in the Louisiana from those four programs.

The $14 billion in flood insurance claims is not exactly recovery assistance because the government is required to pay that whether there is a disaster or not, a topic I have covered before. It certainly helps, though. It would also help if the private insurance companies would pay up, too.

The $6.7 billion in SBA loans are assistance, but we have to pay those back – with interest (thankfully, low interest). And they might interfere with the assistance we don’t have to pay back:
Separately, the recovery authority unanimously asked the Small Business Administration on Monday to stop demanding that homeowners or small businesses pay off their SBA loans when they get other forms of federal storm relief.
Just to keep things in perspective, the amount of money coming from those four programs listed in FEMA’s press release that the federal government is not *required to pay* or that is not money that recipients *have to pay back* is $9.4 billion.

Once again, I am not complaining about totals. I am not saying they should be higher or lower. I only want to keep in perspective how much federal money we are receiving in our recovery and what those numbers mean.

In the case of the LRA, Congress allocated $7.5 billion for the Road Home program. That money is now in the state’s hands. The federal government can brag about that allocation. The state, however, can’t:
Kopplin said the program has received and processed 80,000 applications, and 20,000 appointments have been held — resulting in more than 1,700 awards averaging $68,000.

But only 22 checks have been received by residents to date.
Only 22 checks. And those checks don’t always go straight to the homeowner.

For homeowners who are rebuilding their houses, their LRA money is managed through “disbursement accounts” (word doc). The check only goes into the homeowner’s personal account if he or she has already spent his or her own money to make the repairs. If the homeowner is buying a new house, the homeowner receives the money at the time of closing – so it never really goes into the homeowner’s account but into the seller’s pocket.

My point: We are not swimming around in 100 dollar bills down here.

9 comments:

bayoustjohndavid said...

This makes the numbers even more interesting. I looked at FEMA's web site and didn't see a figure for Mississippi. Assuming it would be about the same as La., the total would still be a lot less than the $88B that the GAO investigated. I guess there's also Tx and Al. to consider. Even Fla., because the aid was for Katrina, Rita and Wilma-- despite the sometimes deliberate effort to make it seem like all the aid's going to N.O. But the G.A.O. knocked it down to $88B because it didn't count flood insurance payments. If La., which got hit by both Rita and Katrina, is only getting $16B out of the $88B, I'd like to see an accounting for the other $72B. Otherwise that $30B is out of well over $100B; what's the fictional total, $120B? I can't remember.

I have a question about that federal government can brag the state can't comment -- aren't many of the restrictions on road home payments the result of the hoops that the feds made the state go through to get aid? If I ever seem like I'm too quick to defend the Blanco administration, it's because nobody else does. Surprisingly enough, John Maginnis has started to, but only slightly. Compare Blanco, Barbour and Nagin. Barbour: only just starting to get much criticism. Nagin: tons of criticism, but no shortage of defenders. Blanco: slightly less criticism than Nagin, but far fewer defenders. In my admittedly subjective opinion.

bayoustjohndavid said...

I know that some of the money is for levee repairs and flood control, but I don't recall those expenditures adding up to much.

da po' boy said...

I think the numbers don't add up to $88 billion because not all of that original $63 billion has been sent to a specific project. That money has been allocated for hurricane aid, but not for a specific project. From what I understand, as projects are announced, the funding comes from that original emergency allocation - not from new allocations, like in December when the Senate diverted $24 billion of the original emergency allocation to other projects.

This FEMA press release (http://www.fema.gov/news/newsrelease.fema?id=31419) says $9.3 billion has gone to Mississippi from FEMA as of November 3. However, the Mississippi numbers appear to not include $2.5 billion in flood claims as well as the $2.6 billion in SBA loans. My addition says the $9.3 billion number includes the SBA loans but not the flood payments. I am confused about that.

I don't think that state can brag about the speed that money is getting to homeowners. If the federal government set up hoops to jump through, the state had plenty of time to set up a system to jump through them faster. The state has known the extent of the damage for a while. The state knew how many buildings were affected, to what degree, and had estimated how much money it needed and got that amount. Now, less than the number of households affected have applied for the money and the state is still taking its time to get the money to those that have applied. I am not directing all of my blame at Blanco, but the state mechanism for distributing the money.

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