Aug. 19: What to expect from FEMA assistance

Aug. 19: What to expect from FEMA assistance

Thousands of those whose homes were flooded last week in South Louisiana had no flood insurance, and may be counting on FEMA’s individual assistance program to help pay for repairs. While the program awards up to $33,000 per household, The Advocate’s Chad Calder cautions applicants not to count on large grant awards to repair flood damage.

Thousands of those whose homes were flooded last week in South Louisiana had no flood insurance, and may be counting on FEMA’s individual assistance program to help pay for repairs. While the program awards up to $33,000 per household, The Advocate’s Chad Calder cautions applicants not to count on large grant awards to repair flood damage.

 

FEMA generally tries to keep expectations low. Officials stress that the individual assistance program was never designed to make people whole or to rebuild ruined houses — only to keep disaster victims safe, sanitary and secure. According to The Advocate’s analysis, about 75 to 80 percent of the payouts in recent major disasters went toward short-term rental assistance and basic repairs to homes to make them habitable. The rest of the payouts were for certain lost personal items that FEMA covers — beds, basic appliances and some furniture — and those calculations are based on average replacement cost. In other words, you don’t get money for the value of the couch you had but for what an average couch would cost. And if you lost three beds but only you and your spouse still live in your home, you’ll get money for only one bed. The program is notorious for giving devastated residents a kind of reverse sticker shock, leaving them wondering how to rebuild their lives with a check for just a few thousand dollars. The average payouts in the disasters examined by The Advocate have never reached even 30 percent of the maximum. If that same figure is reached for this summer’s floods, the average check would be $10,000.

 

More help for flood victims

The list of organizations who are raising money to help those displaced by the floods continues to grow. On Thursday the Louisiana Hospital Association created an employee assistance fund to help more than 5,000 hospital employees who have suffered losses.

 

All tax-deductible contributions to the fund will go directly to hospital employees with no administrative costs deducted. To be eligible for assistance, full-time or part-time employees must have experienced flood damage to their residences in a parish that received a disaster declaration from the federal government.Information on how to donate and answers to frequently asked questions are available online at www.LaHospitalEmployeeFund.org.

 

Together Baton Rouge conducted a survey and found that the vast majority of respondents who were affected by flooding are staying with friends or in hotels – not the shelters. They recently established a fund that will send money directly to flood victims.

 

WAFB has compiled an extensive list of other ways to help flood victims.

 

Also helpful: A resource guide from The Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center to educate flood victims about the help that’s available from the state and federal government, along with their rights.

 

TANF at 20: Failing Louisiana’s Poor
The latest report from LBP was released this morning, and looks at what’s happened to Louisiana’s welfare system in the two decades since the federal government transformed the guarantee of cash assistance into a block grant that states could spend with more flexibility. As Grace Reinke’s report demonstrates, Louisiana has steadily diverted money meant to help struggling families gain economic security. “Instead of using TANF as a safety net for its most vulnerable families, as it was intended, Louisiana has all too often used this money as a slush fund to plug holes in other parts of the budget,” LBP Director Jan Moller said.

 

Louisiana has taken advantage of the law’s flexibility to the point where just 11 percent of what the state spends on welfare dollars goes to the “core” goals of the welfare law – cash assistance, child care subsidies and programs that help families join the work force. The average state, by comparison, spends half its welfare dollars on those core goals. The rest of the money is being used in other ways. In some cases it supports services that are important but, nonetheless, have little or no connection to the main goals of the welfare law – for example, public and private pre-school, fatherhood initiatives and parenting classes, drug treatment programs and college scholarships. Many of these programs serve families with incomes well above the federal poverty line.

 

Obamacare hits a bump
The news this week that Aetna is planning to pull out of Obamacare health insurance exchanges in many markets is bad news for President Obama’s signature health care law, as it signals that private health insurers are having a tough time offering affordable coverage under current strictures – even with generous federal subsidies. But The New York Times’ Paul Krugman writes that there are several easy fixes that Congress could make, if only it had the political will.

 

It seems clear that subsidies for purchasing insurance, and in some cases for insurers themselves, should be somewhat bigger — an affordable proposition given that the program so far has come in under budget, and easily justified now that we know just how badly many of our fellow citizens needed coverage. There should also be a reinforced effort to ensure that healthy Americans buy insurance, as the law requires, rather than them waiting until they get sick. Such measures would go a long way toward getting things back on track. Beyond all that, what about the public option?

 

Number of the Day
$20 billion – the state’s estimate of increase in damage from flooding in coming years, if the coastline isn’t reinforced (Source: Bloomberg)