DCFS Provides $9.6M in DSNAP Benefits from Hurricane Zeta

Residents of the North Rio Vista area of Old Jefferson were without power for five days following Hurricane Zeta. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans, Wikimedia Creative Commons

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) provided $9.6 million in benefits to nearly 35,000 households across six parishes impacted by Hurricane Zeta, according to DCFS Communications Director Catherine Heitman. Residents from Jefferson, Lafourche, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and Terrebonne Parishes had a single week (Feb. 1-7) to apply for benefits provided through the state’s Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP) in order to replace food lost due to power outages during Hurricane Zeta.

Zeta was the fifth named storm to hit Louisiana in 2020. The storm made landfall in Cocodrie, LA as a strong Category 2 hurricane on October 28. According to the National Weather Service, the storm had a maximum wind speed of 110 miles per hour – only 1mph shy of a Category 3. More than 480,000 people were affected by power outages across Louisiana, many for several days. According to Entergy, power was not restored to some rural areas until November 12 – a full two weeks after the storm.

Although Zeta made landfall in October, DCFS didn’t receive federal approval to provide DSNAP benefits to affected parishes until Jan 27, 2021. Before DSNAP can be initiated, the state needed to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS). In addition, the President must first declare Individual Assistance for the disaster area.

Former President Trump did not approve federal disaster assistance to affected Louisiana residents until Jan. 12, 2021 – nearly three months after Hurricane Zeta made landfall – according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Once approved, the state still needed to wait for the USDA FNS to finalize their approval.

On Jan 22, Governor John Bel Edwards sent a formal request to President Joe Biden for more disaster aid to help Louisiana continue its recovery from the unprecedented 2020 hurricane season. In his letter, Edwards requested a disaster appropriations package, noting that the FEMA Individual Assistance funds will “simply not be sufficient to allow our citizens to rebuild their homes and communities; and the Public Assistance funds to rebuild infrastructure will not be adequate to make our communities more resilient in the future.” Edwards estimated that an additional $3 billion is needed to help the citizens of Louisiana “with respect to homeowner and rental housing, infrastructure, and economic development.” Edwards had previously made a similar request of former President Trump but had gone unanswered.

“I feel very confident that we will get it because the President has told me he understands what the needs are, he’s going to be helpful,” Edwards said, speaking of current President Joe Biden. “We have a former Louisiana congressman working in the White House right now and every time he speaks about what the priorities are, he mentions Louisiana’s hurricane recovery efforts.”

Louisiana residents who suffered damage from Hurricane Zeta and who live in the above-named parishes are encouraged to register with FEMA and apply for federal disaster assistance as soon as possible. The deadline to register for assistance is March 15, 2021. Registration can be completed online here, through the FEMA app, or by calling the helpline at 800-621-3362.

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