Gov. John Bel Edwards will spend the next two days making the case for a $2 billion federal aid package for Louisiana in response to the state's recent catastrophic flooding – the first in what's expected to be a series of trips to Washington, D.C. to seek money for the recovery efforts.
Edwards, a Democrat, is asking that Congress approve the additional federal aid this month for housing, economic development and infrastructure flood recovery needs on top of assistance already being provided.
In a letter to the Obama administration, Edwards described the $2 billion ask as a "very reasonable request" given the scope of the nearly $9 billion in estimated damage from the floods that swept across South Louisiana last month and North Louisiana in the spring. That money would be on top of other federal assistance that is already being provided, including the more than $130 million in payments FEMA has already authorized for individual assistance from the most recent flood that killed 13 people and left thousands displaced.
The marathon of meetings Edwards has scheduled Thursday and Friday – which include sit-downs with leaders from the House and Senate who control the government purse strings, as well as key members of the Obama administration – comes as Congress returns this week from a seven-week recess.
Last week, Edwards met with the entire Louisiana delegation to plot out a plan for seeking federal aid – a meeting he and all members of the delegation described as "productive" after it ended.
"As we continue to get a clearer picture of the damage sustained in this historic flood, we will continue to fight together for a stronger Louisiana," Edwards said at the time.
He's expected to again press on the Louisiana delegation during this week's visit and urge them to work colleagues for support.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who was governor of Louisiana during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, said in a recent interview with The Advocate that the federal government aid process is one of the most difficult to navigate.
"You have to swim in a lot of waters," she said.
Edwards' agenda for the two-day trip includes meetings with high-level leaders who will likely be instrumental in securing a recovery aid package: Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Mississippi, and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland; and Reps. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services, and Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat who is the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
He's also scheduled to meet with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro to discuss temporary and long-term housing recovery and White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan regarding the various relief efforts.
Edwards on Friday is scheduled to testify before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency about FEMA's response to the flood.
While Edwards has routinely praised the federal efforts so far, the subcommittee's chairman, Republican Rep. John Mica, of Florida, recently traveled to Louisiana and criticized the federal response as being too slow.
Others who have been invited to testify during that hearing include Central Mayor Jr. Shelton, Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry and Walker Mayor Rick Ramsey.
Edwards' trip is expected to be the first of several as he tries to build support for recovery dollars. He is scheduled to return next week.
Blanco said she made about nine trips to Washington before securing a final $29 billion aid package for Louisiana following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"If we couldn't get financial help for individuals we would have never had a recovery," she said.
Joining Edwards on this week's trip will be Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.
"We are going up as a team to do all that we can to bring assistance for all of our Louisiana residents," Strain said.
Strain said he will be stressing the hard hit to the state's agriculture sector.
"If you look at the spring floods as well as the August floods, we're looking at a preliminary loss in excess of $110 million," he said. That includes initial rice losses of more than $33 million and a $50 million hit to soybean production.
That will exacerbated when other factors are taken into account, such as the excess rain.
"These are the initial early estimates," he said. "It's sure to rise."
Strain said there isn't enough funding in the Farm Bill to provide the level of assistance that farmers will need.
As in the aftermath of hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the state will be seeking a special aid program " to help our farmers, our aquaculturists and our land owners," Strain said.