Governor's office emails reveal concerns about Shelter at Home
BATON ROUGE- Emails from the staff of Governor John Bel Edwards show the administration had concerns about the Shelter at Home program just two weeks after its launch. The emails reveal how officials struggled to manage the emergency program and rectify complaints from victims of the August flood.
"The program has the Governor's name on it and it's not working, for a lot of people," wrote Deputy Chief of Staff Johnny Anderson on September 19th.
Governor Edwards announced the program in late August as thousands of victims struggled to find housing. For those who qualified, Shelter at Home would spend up to $15,000 for temporary repairs on flood damaged houses so victims could live there and continue the work on their own.
"The goal is not to spend $15,000 dollars on a home, the goal is to create a safe, habitable, secure space," said the Governor's spokesperson Julie Payer in an interview about the emails.
As the program ramped up, victims became frustrated when they found out how little the program provided. "I could probably have my whole house sheet-rocked and fixed up for $15,000," said Denham Springs resident Preston Temple, an unsatisfied participant.
Shelter at Home is administered by the state but the federal government provides ninety percent of the funding. Under federal law, Louisiana is not allowed to give victims the money directly.
The emails also showed the Governor's office worked to satisfy complaints. They conducted surprise inspections, showed victims pictures of completed house so they knew what to expect, and mediated conflicts between contractors and homeowners.
Sometimes it was a challenge for staff to locate victims. "Her [a victim's] phone consistently goes to a voice mail box that is not set up," wrote a staff person on September 21st.
Despite the criticism, the emails show at least some participants were satisfied. "Our experience with Shelter at Home was truly a great experience... They did a good job," wrote a victim on October 6th.
The repairs are meant to be temporary but the program has provided many participants with items like new hot water heaters and electrical outlets that won't need to be replaced.
More than 20,000 people have applied for the program and some 6,000 have dropped out. The administration hopes to have all repairs complete by Christmas.