Louisiana flood victims sue Trump administration over aid
The Meyers took out a $280,500 disaster loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration. They are among thousands of homeowners who were later unable to access a federally financed disaster grant program because receipt of both a disaster loan and grant was deemed a duplication of federal benefits.
Congress changed the law in October so SBA loans wouldn't count against the grants. But HUD, which oversees the disaster grant money, hasn't issued legal guidance to match the law changes.
State officials have waited for moths, saying without HUD policy changes, the Restore Louisiana program is unable to give millions of dollars in grants to as many as 6,000 homeowners like the Meyers. That means many of the homeowners face decades of loan repayments when, otherwise, they could receive rebuilding grants to pay off that debt. Others simply may have received no aid at all.
"Plaintiffs, and other disaster victims similarly situated throughout Louisiana, continue to suffer real and considerable harm as they have wrongfully been denied the financial assistance which has been allocated to them," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit names Trump and HUD Secretary Ben Carson as defendants and asks a federal judge to declare that Louisiana can give out disaster aid grants to homeowners who took out SBA loans and to nullify previous HUD guidance forbidding such action.
HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation, but expects to publish an updated benefits duplication policy in May.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, the Baton Rouge Republican who co-sponsored the congressional law change, called the current situation a "fiasco" and said his office has worked with the Meyers and their lawyers.
"The word frustrating hardly conveys what our flood victims have had to endure, and this suit complements our ongoing efforts to get flood victims their money," Graves said in a statement. "The bureaucrats at HUD are going to be held accountable for not doing their job."
Louisiana's two U.S. senators, Republicans Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, have stalled two nominees for HUD assistant secretary jobs, trying to force the agency to release the long-delayed legal guidance for flood victims. The senators have a scheduled meeting Thursday with Carson to try to free up the recovery aid sitting inaccessible for two years.
Cassidy described the stalled nominations as a "way to get their attention."
"We've got folks back home waiting to reconstruct their lives," he said Monday.
The lawsuit says the Meyers' $120,000 home was inundated with more than five feet of water on Aug. 12, 2016, in a flood that damaged a large area of south Louisiana. The mortgage company required the couple's flood insurance money be steered to pay off their debt on the home, leaving them unable to demolish and rebuild.
At a federal disaster recovery center, the Meyers were told they needed to apply for an SBA loan to be eligible for disaster aid, the lawsuit says. While the loan allowed them to demolish the flooded home, build an elevated new home and replace damaged contents, the couple now owes "substantially more than the value of their home" in loan repayments, the lawsuit says.