Garret Graves

Congressman Garret Graves speaks to the Baton Rouge Press Club on Aug. 5, 2019.

The federal government’s implementation of a program meant to benefit Louisiana victims of the 2016 flood violates the letter and intent of the law, Congressman Garret Graves said Monday.

“You’re boxing out thousands of families from getting funds that are already in the bank,” the Baton Rouge Republican said.

After the devastating 2016 floods, the federal government advised victims to apply for a Small Business Administration loan to help pay for home repairs. Applicants who were approved for the loan were denied access to Restore Louisiana money, whether they accepted the loan or not.

Federal legislation approved last fall cleared the way for affected homeowners to get Restore dollars. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by Secretary Ben Carson, says the program must ensure at least 55 percent of all grant funds go to the benefit of low- to moderate-income households.

To ensure the program meets that standard, households making more than 120 percent of their area’s median income must get a hardship waiver from HUD, the department says, and can only receive up to half of the SBA loan amount they drew down.

“They are wrong, period,” Graves said about HUD’s interpretation of the law. “If this means we have to go to court, then that’s what we’ll do.”

“We’re not asking for more money,” he continued. “This is bureaucracy at its worst and you’ve got people making decisions in Washington that have no idea what they’re doing.”

Speaking to the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday, Graves said the Baton Rouge area risks losing $255 million in federal dollars for flood control. However, the city-parish administration reportedly has said it is close to securing the necessary matching funds.

Graves said a dispute with Kansas City Southern over the cost of a railroad bridge could hold up the long-sought Comite River Diversion Canal project. He suggested a “quick take,” when the government uses the power of eminent domain to take a property for a public use before compensating the owner, could be the “nuclear option” to keep the project on track.

In the wake of the most recent mass shootings, President Donald Trump has suggested he is open to more stringent background checks for gun sales. Graves voted against a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives that would expand background checks for firearms transfers among private individuals and said Monday he did not regret his vote.

“The people that did these shootings,” he said, naming several recent mass shootings, “these people went through and were approved under background checks.”

But those shooters were “flagged” by peers and law enforcement as being potentially dangerous, Graves said. He said that information needs to be better incorporated into the background-check system.

Graves is becoming known as a Republican who thinks the issue of climate change should be confronted. But he stressed Monday that he does not believe eliminating the use of fossil fuels is feasible.

He said the United States is leading the world in reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. He said more exports of natural gas, which burns cleaner than oil or coal, could help the rest of the world cut emissions, reduce Russia’s geopolitical influence, and help Louisiana take a leading role in the global energy market.

“This is an opportunity for Louisiana,” he said.

Staff Writer

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.