Community leaders from across Southwest Louisiana held a press conference today announcing the launch of the Help Southwest Louisiana Now campaign.
This grassroots effort, launched on the 11 month anniversary of Hurricane Laura, represents a unified, collective regional effort to advocate for much needed federal supplemental disaster relief funding.
FEMA already has sent more than $1 billion to Louisiana for Hurricane Laura and Delta relief. As of January, FEMA said that: FEMA had approved housing grants to individuals and families totaling $248 million. Housing Assistance grants for repairs to primary residences or for rental of temporary housing came to more than $174 million. Other Needs Assistance grants reached more than $74 million. More than 42,526 survivors have received $70 million in rental assistance; 17,461 survivors have received $96 million for home repairs. Many survivors have been housed in temporary shelters, including hotels, motels, dormitories or other types of housing. And, the U.S. Small Business Administration had approved $627 million in long-term, low-interest disaster loans for homeowners and renters to cover repairs to homes damaged by the two hurricanes and loss of essential personal property and to small businesses. Again, this was as of January 2021. We've reached out to FEMA for more up to date figures.
This funding being sought by the campaign is different; it is Community Development Block Grant Disaster funding.
According to a campaign release, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, Southwest Louisiana was impacted by more federally declared natural disasters than any other community in American history: Hurricane Laura (August 27, 2020), Hurricane Delta (October 9, 2020), Winter Storm Uri (February 15, 2021) and a 1,000 Year Flood Event (May 17, 2021). Supplemental disaster recovery funding, formally called CDBG-DR, is the customary response communities have received from the federal government after being impacted by major natural disasters. This funding has always been awarded in a much shorter time period. By comparison, Washington DC acted 10 days after Hurricane Katrina, 34 days after Hurricane Andrew, and 98 days after Superstorm Sandy. To date, nearly a year after Hurricane Laura, the federal government has provided no supplemental disaster recovery funding for Southwest Louisiana.
“The clock continues to tick,” says Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter. “We are closing in on the one year mark since Hurricane Laura made landfall, tearing a path of destruction through Southwest Louisiana and the rest of the state. We have yet to receive a federal appropriation of supplemental disaster relief funding. It is simply unfathomable and unconscionable that American citizens are still struggling and suffering due to inaction in Washington D.C.”
Help Southwest Louisiana Now is a way for those concerned about this region’s recovery to join together to communicate with Congress and the President about the dire need for supplemental relief.
The total unmet housing need for the state exceeds $900M from Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta, and this figure was calculated before the Winter Storm and May 17 flood. Within the City of Lake Charles alone, housing damages are estimated at $235M, less than 13% of residential buildings have pulled permits to begin reconstruction or rehabilitation, 60% of public housing is still offline, average rental costs have risen by 22%, and 21% of businesses have not renewed occupational licenses for 2021. SOWELA & McNeese enrollments are both down by 9% due to weather disasters. Calcasieu Parish School Board enrollment is down by 14%. Thousands in Southwest Louisiana are living in unsustainable and unhealthy housing. Local government, non-profits and faith-based organizations have continuously expressed the need for supplemental disaster aid but to no avail.
Pastor Sam Tolbert, President of the National Baptist Convention of America International states “I have seen the suffering and need with my own eyes, in my own neighborhood.” He adds, “As we always do in the face of adversity, we have helped our brothers and sisters to our greatest extent possible. Now, we call upon our American brothers and sisters. To all in Washington DC and across America, I say to you that we are your brethren, we are hurting, and we need help. Mother Nature has been brutal to us. We are strong and though we try to keep each other’s spirits lifted, many are weary and plead for additional help and an equitable response.”
Campaign information and resources can be found on www.rebuildingswla.com [rebuildingswla.com]. Those who wish to help are asked to submit pre-written letters to their Congressional representatives and the President. It is a brief simple process and the letters can be customized. Citizens are also asked to share the campaign video released today on the RebuildingSWLA Facebook page.
“Recent weather disasters continue to have a traumatic impact on the lives of our people in Southwest Louisiana, including our education system,” adds Karl Bruchhaus, Calcasieu Parish School Board Superintendent. “Combined with COVID, the damages to our 76 campuses in the Calcasieu Parish School Board system have left us struggling to repair our buildings and live up to our strong academic expectations. We are near the end of our capacity to continue repairs without additional resources. Our community and our students deserve the same consideration given to others across our country that have faced similarly disasters. Our local resilience and strength should not be used to penalize. Although we continue to endure, our employees, parents and students are exhausted and are nearing breaking points.”
“Cameron Parish is the first location to experience the fury of each hurricane that makes landfall in SWLA, the entryway that welcomes global maritime commerce and the buffer to points north,” says Clair Marceaux, Director of Cameron Parish Port, Harbor & Terminal District. She continues, “Cameron Parish exists as a working coast: we are home to more than $50 billion in liquefied natural gas export construction already completed and another $40 billion in proposed projects and one of our nation’s only two Strategic Petroleum Reserves. We export more natural gas than all but two countries worldwide! Our people desperately need more help from the federal government.”
For more information, or to find out how you can help, visit www.rebuildingswla.com [rebuildingswla.com].