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Louisiana Governor Visits White House To Request Federal Aid

Tegan Wendland
Tammie Hill has run a daycare between Denham Springs and Watson for 32 years. She doesn't know yet whether she'll try to reopen.

Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, was in Washington DC last week lobbying Congress to approve a disaster aid package of nearly $3 billion to help with flood relief. Part of that would go to help small businesses recover. In addition to more than 140,000 homes, nearly 7,000 businesses were flooded-out.

Everyday since the flood, Tammie Hill has gone to work at her daycare like she has for the past 32 years. But now there are no kids here. And she spends every morning, afternoon and evening cleaning up the gutted buildings.

She uses an old Red Flyer wagon to pick up ruined toys from the roadside and dump them in the trash. “This is their little golf game, their mats… their little teapots, little Christmas decorations. Just all the stuff that was floating.”

Many of the kids who attended her daycare were second-generation - their parents went to Children’s Edition, too. It’s on a busy highway between Watson and Denham Springs, east of Baton Rouge. Hill would put every kid’s birthday on a sign out front. “That’s like my world-famous birthday sign. Seriously, for 32 years I have put every kid’s birthday on that sign and take their picture.” Now the sign says, “Happy Birthday Tyler is 10.” It’s been up since the day of the flood.

Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
Children's Edition took about two feet of water. Owner Tammie Hill says she lost everything.

She doesn’t want to take down the sign because it represents her last normal day. She’s trying to decide whether to reopen, and many others are in the same position. Adam Knapp is CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “We’ve been seeing the best days this economy has seen in 20 years - has been in the last two years. The job rates have been hitting record rates for the capital region. And then we hit the flooding - and the flooding puts huge question mark on economy.”

He says manufacturing and industry will be fine. It’s the small businesses he’s most worried about.

For Tammie Hill, reopening isn’t as simple as just renovating. Regulations have changed in the decades since she’s been in business. She’d have to file for special permits, maybe even raise her buildings. That would be way too expensive. And she didn’t have flood insurance.  Hill says, “I don’t know. To start all over, it would be like starting over new.”

Officials are counting on the daycares, the grocery stores and the pharmacies to reopen in small towns so people will move back. But Knapp says those business owners don’t know what to expect. “If you’re a restaurant in a neighborhood and all of the housing in your neighborhood provided the customers for your restaurant, you don’t know yet what your recovery is going to look like,” says Knapp.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has set up disaster recovery centers to help. Field officer Garth McDonald says so far - the SBA has given out disaster loans to almost 300 businesses. McDonald says, “They can borrow for IT equipment, they can borrow for machinery and equipment, they can borrow for automobiles that deliver products.”

But for many, loans are not a great option. Knapp says taking on debt is the last thing business owners want to do -- a lot of them also lost their homes. “In this case where there’s a lot of uncertainty in their market, a loan is something that is very concerning. So they’re probably trying to max out credit cards or look at other ways they can find some capital,” says Knapp.

So the Chamber started a small grant program, giving out up to $10,000 dollars to individual businesses. About 700 applied.

For now Hill will keep coming to the daycare everyday to cleanup. Partly because she doesn’t know what else to do. “This is just home to me. It’s all I’ve ever known,” says Hill.

She’s not sure yet what she’ll do next. And that could be a big problem for the families she serves. Many are left with no childcare and some are skipping work to stay home with their kids. 

This story aired nationally on NPR's All Things Considered.

Support for WWNO's Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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