BATON ROUGE, La. — A New Orleans congressman objected Wednesday to a Jindal administration plan to redirect federal hurricane recovery money from housing aid programs to Superdome upgrades.
U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond sent a letter to federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Gov. Bobby Jindal asking for the money shift to be scrapped, saying the plan is ill-advised because people still are struggling to rebuild more than six years after Hurricane Katrina.
The Jindal administration has proposed moving $6.6 million from several recovery programs, including fisheries assistance, small business loans and housing aid, to another program that would help pay for improvements to the Superdome, where the New Orleans Saints play.
"It is my firm belief that this would not be the best use of these funds and would send the wrong message to the local communities and citizens who continue to rebuild," Richmond, a Democrat, wrote in his letter.
If the Republican governor continues to push for the spending plan, Richmond asked the HUD secretary to "use every authority it possesses to ensure this transfer does not take place."
The proposal needs approval from HUD, which oversees the spending of the billions of dollars in block grant aid allocated to Louisiana after Katrina and the follow-up blow of Hurricane Rita in 2005.
Jindal's commissioner of administration, Paul Rainwater, said the Disaster Recovery Unit was asking to shift unused dollars returned after several parishes said they weren't needed for the programs to which they had been divvied up.
"It's just smart to take those dollars and reallocate them to where we do need them," Rainwater said. "We're not taking money from homeowners. We're using money that was not utilized by other parishes. This actually gets more money into New Orleans. This fits very well into the plans that have been approved by HUD."
The money would be sent to a local government infrastructure program, and from there, would be used for Superdome repairs and improvements that didn't qualify for FEMA aid after Katrina. More than $40 million from the fund already has been used on the domed stadium.
Rainwater said the Superdome expenses includes sewer pipe repairs, upgrades to the air conditioning system, the reconfiguration of seating areas and other enhancements made to the state-owned building.
The Superdome will be hosting the NCAA Final Four men's basketball championship this weekend and the Super Bowl next year.
"It just made sense with all the activities happening in the Superdome to shore it up to make sure it has all the adjustments that it needs. To us it's a good investment," Rainwater said. "It is a huge economic engine for the region and the state. It benefits the entire city of New Orleans. It creates jobs."
Richmond said money for the Superdome isn't as important the need for investment in homeownership programs.
"These programs are critical for continued recovery after Hurricane Katrina and give many Louisianans access to the American dream. Additionally, these programs are integral to the blight reduction efforts underway in many jurisdictions throughout the state," the congressman said.
According to the Disaster Recovery Unit, the redirected funding would include:
—$2.2 million from a fisheries assistance program, money not used after planned projects in Terrebonne and Plaquemines parishes fell through.
—$600,000 from a program that helped would-be homeowners after the hurricanes to afford new homes. Acadia, Calcasieu, Iberia, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vermilion, Washington, Cameron and Plaquemines parishes decided against running the homeowner assistance program.
—$900,000 from a first-time homebuyer pilot program that has ended.
—$2 million from a program that gave small business loans and grants, after an awardee decided against taking a grant.
—$946,365 from a workforce training program that has ended.