Aug. 18: Housing crisis in Louisiana

Aug. 18: Housing crisis in Louisiana

South Louisiana residents are beginning the arduous process of gutting and recovery.

Housing crisis in Louisiana

South Louisiana residents are beginning the arduous process of gutting and recovery. With such a wide swath of homes inundated, many people are scrambling to find housing. While thousands are living in temporary shelters or with friends and relatives, the Louisiana Housing Corporation is encouraging people with available rental properties to list them on their website as people look for longer-term housing solutions. The Associated Press team of Michael Kunzelman, Melinda Deslatte, and Kevin McGill detail the dire situation:

With an estimated 40,000 homes damaged by deadly flooding, Louisiana could be looking at its biggest housing crunch since the miserable, bumbling aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago. People whose homes were swamped by some of the heaviest rains Louisiana has ever seen are staying in shelters, bunking with friends or relatives, or sleeping in trailers on their front lawns. Others unable or unwilling to leave their homes are living amid mud and the ever-present risk of mold in the steamy August heat. Many victims will need an extended place to stay while they rebuild.

Many people whose homes took in water lived in areas that had never flooded before, so the vast majority of people affected did not carry flood insurance policies. While some limited aid is available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for many, it will not be enough to make them whole:

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said that only 12 percent of the homes in hard-hit Baton Rouge were covered by flood insurance, and only 14 percent in Lafayette. Across the flood-stricken area, many residents said they weren’t required to have flood insurance and didn’t have it, since nothing remotely like this had ever happened before. “My father’s owned this place for 70 years. Never seen it like this. We never thought we needed it,” said Chris Bankston, owner of an auto parts place in the Livingston Parish town of Albany where workers were shoveling debris. Water crept into his parking lot Friday night, and by Sunday his gasoline pumps were covered. Floodwaters had never come within 200 yards of the place before, he said. FEMA said more than 9,000 flood claims have been filed with the agency.

 

State opens pre-registration for disaster food assistance

The state is encouraging residents affected by flooding to sign-up for disaster food assistance (DSNAP). Eligibility is broader than the regular SNAP program and those already receiving SNAP do not need to apply. Contrary to some rumors, DSNAP is not yet being distributed. Once it is, though, the program will provide an important benefit to those struggling in the aftermath of the disaster, while also providing a much-needed shot in the arm to the local economy. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard has more:

Under DSNAP, the eligibility requirements are relaxed for disaster victims, opening access to federal food assistance for victims who wouldn’t qualify — they make too much money, for instance — under normal circumstances. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services is preparing to ask the federal government to initiate DSNAP, which is coming shortly. But pre-registering will speed the process of getting benefits to individual households. Applicants can pre-register is online at www.dcfs.la.gov/preregister. Or they can call (888) 524-3578 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

 

State social service spending linked to health outcomes

Spending on social services like education, nutrition assistance, and housing can make a big difference in people’s health. That’s the finding of a study that looked at states’ investments in an array of social services along with health outcome data. The authors identified supportive housing and nutritional support as particularly important investments. Elizabeth H. Bradley and Lauren A. Taylor have the details in a blog for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

When comparing state-to-state spending between 2000 and 2009, those states with higher ratios of social service spending to health care spending had better outcomes on average. The size of the health effects were substantial. For instance, a 20 percent change in the median social-to-health spending ratio was equivalent to 85,000 fewer adults with obesity and more than 950,000 adults with mental illness.

 

Policy changes needed to put men back to work

The national job market is improving, but many men of prime working age aren’t headed back to the workforce. Jason Furman, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is concerned about this trend, especially since non-participation in the labor market is connected to increased rates of depression, drug use, and suicide. In an interview with the Brookings Institution’s David Wessel, Furman calls for policy changes that will help these men acquire the skills needed in today’s economy, along with important work supports:

Government policy can make a difference, Furman argues. Improving education and access to college could help by making workers more attractive to employers. So would spending more on helping people find jobs, as other countries do. Providing child-care subsidies and paid leave could draw more men – and women — into the workforce.  Expanding the tax subsidies offered to low-wage workers so jobs are more attractive would be a plus, too.

 

Number of the Day
$2,693 – For a family of four, the maximum gross monthly income to be eligible for disaster food assistance. (Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture)