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"A BUREAUCRATIC MORASS" | Unsigned waiver after DOB fix angers Congressman Garret Graves

November 21, 2018
In The News

WASHINGTON D.C. -- A waiver to release money after the Duplication of Benefits fix has delayed state distribution of funds to additional households affected by the 2016 floods, a move which has angered Congressman Garret Graves.

The 45-day window has expired for President Trump to sign the waiver, a move implemented through government bureaucracy, Graves told The News in an interview Wednesday.

The unsigned waiver and expiration do not change the status of the actual bill the president signed into law after its passage in October.

He assured that the legislation is not in jeopardy of falling along the wayside, he said.

"Legally, everything is in place that needs to be in place in terms of the law for the state to cut checks to flood victims," Graves said. "I stood alongside the President when he signed the bill into law, and he's supportive of the flexibility to the Restore program."

The delay has also raised concerns for U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who has worked with Graves, New Orleans Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy to fix the DOB provision.

"Our office has urged the White House to communicate the Duplication of Benefits guidance to the governor, and we will continue working to ensure all flood victims receive what they are owed," said Matt Wolking, communications director for Sen. Cassidy's office in Washington.

Graves said he and his staff have pushed the staffers in the White House to have President Trump sign the waiver, the final step necessary to dole out the additional $230 million in Restore money to victims of floods events in March and August 2016.

Meetings and phone conversations have continued for weeks with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Small Business Administration, the Office of Budget and Management, FEMA and the White House, Graves said.

Some agencies believe the legislation was not needed to move beyond the DOB roadblock, he said.

"Bottom line is that this is what a bureaucracy looks like ... this is a bureaucratic morass we're looking at right now," Graves said. "There's no excuse for this type of delay."

Graves will address the holdup during a congressional oversight hearing when lawmakers return to Washington the first week of December.

"They have exceeded the number of days, so now we want them to explain themselves," he said.

Graves blamed opposition from career bureaucrats for a fix to the DOB issue, an effort which has continued since the days of the Obama Administration.

"They were changing the law, fighting this every step of the way, planting all sorts of seeds of misinformation in the House and Senate that we had to work through to dispel," he said. "We had several meetings with the career bureaucrats with their bosses where we largely embarrassed them because they didn't know what they were talking about and they were inventing obstacles, and so I think you're seeing a little bit of bureaucracy and deep opposition to the change."

Senior officials at the White House have said the paperwork for the waiver had not yet made it to the Oval Office for President Trump's signature.

One official said they could not locate the document, Graves said.

"They were the ones who lit the fire on everybody and told the agencies they need to get this thing resolved," he said. 

Despite the DOB fix becoming law, a dispute lingers with attorneys from federal agencies who do not believe the waiver is necessary, and that certain provisions outright eliminate the DOB ruling.

Graves said other attorneys believe that the clause that differentiates an SBA loan from a grant eliminates the need for a waiver.

Gov. John Bel Edwards could authorize the Restore Louisiana program to begin issuance of checks to previously unqualified flood victims, but Graves said he understands the governor's reluctance.

"It's a slippery slope," Graves said. "I'd want to be careful about cutting $230 million in federally funded check because I want to make sure I have all the approval necessary, considering the state with its financial  situation by saying Louisiana would have to pay back $230 million.

"If I were governor, I'd write the checks, but I certainly understand the state's hesitancy," he said. "The fix is in place, but this is all about bureaucracy, and it's why people get so frustrated with the federal government -- and we deal with it all the time."