Forgotten in Lake Charles

Forgotten in Lake Charles

It’s been two years since Hurricanes Laura and Delta laid waste to much of Lake Charles, and many residents of the petrochemical hub are still struggling to rebuild their lives. Federal aid has been slow in coming and tangled in bureaucracy, and local officials fear their plight has been largely forgotten by decision-makers in Washington. The Advocate’s Mike Smith reports

Since the two hurricanes hit southwest Louisiana in 2020, the state has drawn more than $2 billion in help from FEMA and in low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which are among the early disaster responders. But that money falls short of addressing the region’s long-term recovery needs. That’s where longer-term federal aid — normally distributed through what bureaucrats call CDBG-DR, or Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery — comes into play. It is meant to address serious housing, infrastructure and economic development needs not covered by FEMA and insurance. Typically 70% of the funds must benefit low- to moderate-income residents, and families’ homes must be severely damaged to qualify.

Louisiana’s aging lifers
There are 4,177 people in Louisiana serving life in prison without the possibility of parole – nearly as many as in California, with five times our population. More than half of these lifers – 57% – are older than 50, the highest percentage among 20 states recently examined by the Sentencing Project. Older inmates are especially costly to care for, and research has shown that older people who have served long sentences have extremely low recidivism rates. But as the Lafayette Advertiser’s Ashley White reports, efforts to reduce the state’s population of “lifers” have repeatedly run aground at the State Capitol. 

Some states are adopting or have adopted compassionate release laws. A 2022 Louisiana House Bill sponsored by Rep. Delisha Boyd (D-Algiers) would have created a parole program for someone who was older than 70 and served more than 50% of their sentence but excluded those convicted of first-or second-degree murder. The bill failed to make it out of committee.

Jackson is a warning for Louisiana
The clean-water crisis in Mississippi’s largest city was the result of decades of underinvestment and deferred maintenance, something that plague’s aging water infrastructure across the state of Louisiana. More than half of the Pelican State’s 1,200 water systems are more than 50 years old, according to a 2017 study by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the problem afflicts larger cities and rural communities alike. An Advocate editorial praises the Legislature for recognizing the scope of the problem, but notes that solutions require dollars that the state doesn’t have.

The Louisiana Legislature made an effort to help during the 2021 session by approving a Department of Health letter-grade system for the state’s 1,200 water systems. That identified specific problems, but not much money was then available to help; via new federal funding, Louisiana is now helping water systems deal with the problems of old filtration, towers, pumps and pipes. There are far too many water systems in need of serious repair, so the new grant programs are overdue. It would be best to replace old, faulty systems entirely, and then budget for updates into the next century. Today’s grants are too small to be that permanent solution, but while we consider how much it would cost, we should also consider the likely costs of continuing to hope for the best.

Footnote: Repealing Louisiana’s income taxes on people and corporations, which brings in nearly $5 billion a year, will make it that much harder to rebuild our water infrastructure. 

Luring insurance companies back to Louisiana
Thousands of Louisiana policyholders are being forced into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state’s property insurer of last resort, as the damaging effects of climate change continue to price companies out of Sportsman’s Paradise. But this past legislative session, lawmakers created a fund to lure new companies to Louisiana and even get ones that left to come back. Unfortunately they didn’t put any money into it. On Friday Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon laid out his plan for funding the new program. BRProud’s Shannon Heckt reports

The Insurance Commissioner proposed using the millions of dollars in excess from his department to put into the incentive fund. The money comes from charging companies for licenses among other typical costs of business. “I hope to get the authority from you and the governor to utilize that $20 million to create an incentive program like the one we had in and utilized after Katrina and Rita,” Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said. He hopes this will draw companies with cheaper premiums than Citizens to come and they’d have a deal to stay for at least five years.

Number of the Day
4,177 – Number of people in Louisiana serving life sentences without the possibility of parole or probation. (Source: Lafayette Daily Advertiser)