Bill Would Redirect Pandemic Funds to Louisiana Disaster Assistance

BATON ROUGE – The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill that would allow unspent American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be used for natural disaster recovery and infrastructure needs, which could have an impact on Louisiana.

The ARPA was a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package enacted in March.

“I hope the House follows suit quickly to get Louisianians more of the relief they need,” U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said. 

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Kennedy cosponsored the legislation, known as the State, Local, Tribal and Territorial Fiscal Recovery, Infrastructure and Disaster Relief Flexibility Act. If successful, the bill would repurpose existing funds already in the possession of state governments, rather than call for new spending.

Louisiana received nearly $4.8 billion from the ARPA’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, a $350 billion program aimed at lessening pandemic-related economic fallout.

The fund was meant to replace lost state and local government revenue because of lockdowns, business closures, customer restrictions, lost jobs and other factors, in addition to supporting economic recovery efforts.

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According to the bill, 100% of any remaining funds can be used for traditional disaster relief, such as temporary emergency housing, food assistance, financial assistance for lost wages or other immediate needs. Up to 30% could be used for infrastructure.

“With this flexibility, the decision of how to invest the remaining COVID relief money rests with the Louisiana state government,” Kennedy said.

The legislation could assist communities and regions of the state that have endured multiple declared natural disasters dating back to last year, with many areas struggling ever since.

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Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter exemplified such needs when he spoke at the Louisiana Capitol last month and urged state lawmakers not to forget southwest Louisiana as they consider aiding southeast Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.

Since Hurricane Laura in August 2019, Hunter said Lake Charles had seen a 14% decline in public school enrollment, 45% increase in drug overdose deaths, 47% increase in unpaid property taxes and 833% increase in blight properties.

Rep. Ryan Bourriaque, R-Abbeville, said schools and churches have been slow to recover in Cameron Parish.

Kennedy, along with a bipartisan effort from Louisiana’s congressional delegation, has sought disaster relief help from the Biden administration on numerous occasions throughout the year. Aid was recently approved as part of a nationwide package tucked into a congressional stopgap funding measure ending Dec. 3.

Louisiana Division of Administration Commissioner Jay Dardenne said last week in Baton Rouge that Louisiana has roughly $1 billion remaining in ARPA funds.

“Louisianians have gone through historic hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters over the last 18 months, and they still need help rebuilding their homes and businesses,” Kennedy said. “I hope the House follows suit quickly by sending this bill to the president’s desk.”

By William Patrick of the Center Square

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