(TNS) - As Congress enters the fall session, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise says his staff will be working through the break to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.
The program is set to expire again Nov. 30 after the latest extension passed in July.
"It's a critical program for the people of south Louisiana," said the Metairie Republican who represents southern Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. "I fought to make sure it didn't expire through the end of hurricane season in September."
In the wake of devastating floods in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence, Scalise said he is working across the aisle to form a national coalition with a goal of extending the program for five years.
Reforms to the current program should include better mapping of flood areas through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, and increased efforts to reduce the impacts of flooding, he said.
Leaders in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes have been asking for a New Start designation for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee system to help gain federal money. To date, the entire project, which aims to protect Terrebonne and Lafourche from storms, has been financed with about $400 million from state and local agencies.
Scalise said it's possible the project will receive federal money, but there are other important projects in the area like the elevation of La. 1 that connects to Port Fourchon, which services the vast majority of the offshore Gulf energy industry.
"That's an important infrastructure project to keep that gateway open to Port Fourchon," Scalise said.
With that, coastal restoration efforts are still the "single most important" need, he said.
"There's lots of good ideas out there, but it's going to cost billions of dollars, not millions," Scalise said.
The corps has taken a lot of criticism for dragging out studies over several years and spending thousands of dollars on projects that don't come to fruition, critics have said.
To address that, Scalise said he is supporting initiatives such as the America's Water Infrastructure Act that aims to expedite the review of these studies and an evaluation of moving the corps from the Defense Department to the Interior and Transportation departments.
"When we're fighting wars, generals are not worried about levees back home," Scalise said. "I think it's time to revisit that whole idea and put it somewhere better."
Scalise and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who represents northern Terrebonne and Lafourche, are also working on what is being called the Tax Cuts 2.0, an effort to make permanent many of the tax cuts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed last year.
It remains, uncertain, however, if the Senate will take up the bills.
"The economy is going great and people are seeing more money in their paychecks," Scalise said.
But some areas of south Louisiana are still struggling, he added. Many area oil industry jobs haven't returned, but oil prices are starting to stabilize.
Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 448-7636 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JuliaArenstam.
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