Ida battered the Houma Nation

Ida battered the Houma Nation

Members of the United Houma Nation – recognized by the state of Louisiana but not the federal government – were hit particularly hard by Hurricane Ida. More than a month after the storm’s 160 mile-per-hour winds roared ashore, officials estimate that 12,000 temporary housing units are needed in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, where the Houma Nation’s 19,000 members are concentrated. NPR’s Emma Bowman traveled down the bayou and explains that the lack of federal recognition is a particular hardship for Houma people after natural disaster strikes. 

The Houma people, who don’t live on a traditional reservation, are spread out across these parishes along the toes of Louisiana’s boot. Between oil spills, coastal erosion and catastrophic hurricanes, the bayou residents are often at the front lines of disaster. But unlike the 574 Native American tribes currently recognized by the U.S. government, when disaster strikes, the Houma people do not receive direct federal help. “Whenever a storm or something like this hits, the tribe just has to go through the regular channels like any other private citizen would,” says Adam Crepelle, an assistant law professor at George Mason University, who is a Houma tribal member. “Whereas if it was federally recognized, it would be eligible for FEMA money and other federal programs to help with recovery.”

The eviction moratorium saved lives
In early September 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an unprecedented moratorium on evictions, allowing people who fell behind on their rent payments during the pandemic to stay in their homes. The moratorium remained in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned it in late August. Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, writing in The New York Times, says this national policy experiment saved many lives. 

The Eviction Lab at Princeton, which I direct, estimates that the eviction moratorium helped prevent 1.55 million eviction filings, affecting more than 3.7 million people. … Another study, published in July in The American Journal of Epidemiology, found that states that ended their own eviction moratoriums in the months before the federal moratorium went into effect (like Pennsylvania and Texas) experienced significantly higher mortality rates than states that did not (like Minnesota and New York). Nationally, this resulted in an estimated 433,700 excess Covid-19 cases and 10,700 excess deaths.

Flood insurance sticker shock
Nearly half a million Louisiana households rely on the National Flood Insurance Program to safeguard their homes from the financial devastation that can result from a flood. In recent years the program has been paying out far more in claims than it collects in premiums, which led to a recalculation of rates that took effect last Friday. As the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, up to 80% of Louisiana policyholders will see rate increases of up to $120 per year. But future increases could be much steeper, and that has elected officials calling for a delay in the increase as south Louisiana continues to dig out from Hurricane Ida. 

Louisiana officials caution the new rate calculations could drive people in lower risk areas out of the flood insurance program, damaging its solvency. They worry rate hikes could make it harder for some people to stay in their homes or sell them to others, harming the housing market. And they say chasing people out of the program will drive up other federal disaster aid costs. 

‘Half a loaf’ of disaster relief
The U.S. Congress averted a federal government shutdown with just hours to spare last week by sending a stopgap spending bill to President Joe Biden’s desk. That bill also includes a downpayment on long-overdue disaster relief. For residents of Lake Charles, the move came more than a year after the region was battered by two major storms. Now, as The Advocate explains in an editorial, the federal government needs to do all it can to ensure the money gets to where it’s needed as quickly as possible. 

The crying need for a housing program in Lake Charles is something that can be somewhat addressed by the new aid package approved by our dysfunctional national Legislature in Washington. Now, state and local governments — such as the sorely tried Mayor Nic Hunter of Lake Charles — must work through bureaucratic hoops that will take time. That time would have been shortened had Congress acted with the urgency that hurricanes Laura and Delta of last year required, but that is now our situation.

Number of the Day
496,000 – Number of Louisiana policyholders in the National Flood Insurance Program. Premium hikes that took effect on Oct. 1 will raise costs by up to $120 per year for 80% of policyholders. (Source: Associated Press)