DENHAM SPRINGS -- The two Livingston Parish members of the Restore Louisiana Task Force scoffed over the latest holdup on fund disbursement, which occurred despite a vote on Capitol Hill to end the Duplication of Benefits provision.
Former Denham Springs Mayor Jimmy Durbin, who heads the task force, considers the latest setback a major letdown for homeowners who incurred damages from flood events in March and August of 2016.
"There's a number of local people I know who were entitled to the new funds, and we thought they'd easily get the money before the end of the year," he said. "Now it looks like a long time."
The latest holdup came to light two days before Thanksgiving upon the expiration of the 45-day time frame for President Donald Trump to sign the waiver to authorize distribution of funds to families who were previously denied because they applied for loans from the Small Business Administration.
The Senate in October approved a measure that struck down the unpopular Duplication of Benefits provision that blocked thousands of natural disaster victims -- ranging from floods and hurricanes in the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard, to forest fires in California.
"It's absolutely ridiculous that after two years they're still holding up homeowners from getting the finishing products or even being able to get started on rebuilding their homes ... I don't know what's holding it up," said State Sen. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, who also serves on the committee. "These people waited long enough, and it's a shame for everyone from the people here in Livingston Parish to everywhere else in this state to have to go through this.
"There's no reason these homeowners should be forced to wait yet another Thanksgiving and Christmas season without being able to start rebuilding their homes," he said. "It's been two years now, and it's entirely too long."
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development disbursed the additional $230 million to the state coffers in October.
Although the elimination of the DOB provision has already become law, Congressman Garret Graves said he does not blame Gov. John Bel Edwards for his reluctance to distribute the funds out of concern that the waiver could become a loophole that would force the state to return the money.
"Gov. Edwards has done all he could do," Durbin said. "I know that the money is in Louisiana, and we discussed that at the last meeting in West Monroe.
"Pat Forbes (executive director of the Governor's Office of Community Development) told us -- the members that were present -- that the state has the money, and that it's not spent and there's enough money on hand to make the disbursements to cover the SBA issue," he said. "All the state needed was the approval of HUD in Washington D.C."
Graves said last week he had been told the waiver has not reached President Trump's desk in the Oval Office.
Durbin fears another round of bureaucratic obstacles could hold up the bill until the next year when the new members take office in the House and Senate -- something which could bring another twist into the scenario.
"I don't know if this is going to be accomplished right now," he said. "Congressman Graves has done all he can, and in 30 days we will see a new leadership, which means it will be going through a Democrat-led Congress, so I'm uncertain what direction this will take."
The blame ultimately rests on the shoulders of the bureaucracy in Washington, Pope said.
"I don't hold Garret Graves, our senators or congressional delegation responsible for any of this," he said. "I think the bureaucracy all across the line have failed the people of Livingston Parish and the entire state."