Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How not to maximize recovery funding

Just prior to the Labor Day weekend, Governor Edwards submitted a request to the President and Congress for supplemental flood relief aid.  
Edwards asks that Congress this month approve $2 billion in federal aid for Louisiana for housing, economic development and infrastructure. He says it's a "very reasonable request," adding to other federal programs assisting in Louisiana's flood recovery.
This week the Governor is in Washington pushing his plan in meetings with congressional leaders and Obama Administration officials.  (UPDATE: Already successful in receiving a greater federal cost share of disaster response) I wonder, though, if  he should be aiming a little higher than "very reasonable" in his initial ask.   Much has already been written about the extreme difficulty of Louisiana's shitty congressional delegation getting much sympathy out of the shitty Congress this year.  When you know going in that you're going to see a large chunk of what you're asking for compromised away in the process, it's a good idea to ask for more than you will actually need. Ideally we would start by asking for way too much and then let them whittle it down to "reasonable."

(UPPERDATE: And here we see the President has already whittled out a mysterious $200 million for whatever reason.  So we're going the wrong direction.)

Instead it looks like the Governor may have opened negotiations asking for less than will actually be needed. For one thing, we still don't have a solid estimate of the damage. This article says, "at least $8.7 billion."  But it also says the number of homes documented as damaged "could double" from 55,000 to 110,000.  Does "at least $8.7 billion" then mean AS MUCH as $17 billion?  I have to suppose that can't be what they mean. But it is a logical interpretation of what is written.

Anyway when you've got so many uninsured properties in the mix (80 percent of the documented damaged homes now) you have to expect you'll need extra help.  Last week, again with incomplete and unclear numbers available, we tried to sketch out an estimate of how much a new "Road Home" style program where homeowners are compensated for the difference between the cost of repairs vs the amount paid out by insurance might cost.  Our high end guess at that time was $6.4 billion. That was based on an average grant in the amount of $70,000 going to 63% of 145,000 homeowners.

Let's adjust that math to fit the estimates printed along with the Governor's request.  That's 80% of something between 55,000 and 110,000 damaged homes at an average of $70,000 per grant. That comes out to roughly $3 billion at the low end and as much as $6.2 billion at the high end.   Again, these are very rough guesses but if they're even remotely in the ballpark they suggest that the Governor is asking for maybe a billion dollars or possibly many billions less than what flood victims will actually need.

Governor Edwards is a mild mannered guy. But there are situations where "reasonable" doesn't necessarily cut it.  We've got some experience with disaster recovery in New Orleans. Maybe we can offer some advice.  For starters, has Edwards even read former New Orleans Sanitation Director Veronica White's book?

Does that say, "How to Ask For a Reasonable Amount Of FEMA Funding After a Natural Disaster"? No it does not say that. We're setting our sights on a Maximized recovery here.  And since it doesn't look like Ed Blakely is coming through that door any time soon, I suppose it falls to us to give the John Bel a few pointers.  What follows, then, is a brief sketch of our five point recovery plan for South Louisiana based on our decade's long experience.

One:  Mitch Landrieu told us the key to rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina was that we not just build everything back the way it was, but instead, build "the city we've always wanted to be."   So here is how you do that. First, look around and see if you have any land that might be made for valuable for development if you can move the poor people living there off of it.  Next, move those poor people out of the way.  Like Pres says, they're a "drag on the economy. We've talked many times about how this strategy took off in New Orleans. Make it work for you too.

B: Do you have any public services laying around that might be ripe for a little "public-private partnering" or other such cutting edge innovation? Take a look at your schools. Farming out public education to semi-privatized management has been a pet cause of the best and brightest policy wonks for decades now.  It's made careers for people in politics and people just out of politics.  Most importantly, it has focused attention on communities willing to turn their disasters into "blank slate" opportunities.  This is the kind of thing that gets your mayor invited to Aspen, which, as we know, is at least halfway to getting yourself a bonafide recovery.

III: Say brah, do you like apps? If you're really trying to take your grifting innovation recovery to the next level, you've got to get you some tech savvy entrepreneurs to come in and disrupt your whole situation for you. We can see you've already got a head start on this. Still looking for ways to hack it into high gear, though?  Well what about your....

(4): Culture and "authenticity."  Are you famous for quaint folkways that people with disposable income find entertaining on a self-satisfying pseudo-intellectual level? Yes? Great, you can sell that shit by the truckload! Put it all out there. See if David Simon wants to dramatize the struggles of the unique people St. Amant for premium cable. Do you have music and food festivals that "only the locals" know about? Make sure you rebuild your home in an Airbnb friendly aesthetic because you're gonna have some customers. How about a Disney-friendly gumbo recipe? Yes, definitely do that

v: Resilience. What is it? Who knows! You want it, though. Take as much as they offer.

Lagniappe: Do you happen to have a guy who can block punts?  Some people think that helps too.

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