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Louisiana Governor Visits White House To Request Federal Aid


Louisiana's governor John Bel Edwards came to Washington this week to ask for money. He's seeking nearly $3 billion in disaster aid for Louisiana. If he gets it, part of that money would go to help small businesses recover from the historic floods. In addition to more than 140,000 homes, nearly 7,000 businesses were flooded out last month. Tegan Wendland of member station WNNO reports.

TEGAN WENDLAND, BYLINE: Every day since the flood, Tammie Hill has gone to work at her day care 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.

TAMMIE HILL: These are their little golf, like golf game, and their mats and some little balls to a basketball machine, their little teapot, like, little Christmas decorations - all the stuff that was floating.

WENDLAND: Many of the kids who attended her day care were second generation. Their parents went to Children's Edition, too. And 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.

HILL: That's like my world famous birthday sign. Seriously, for 32 years I have put every kid birthday on that sign and take their picture and put it on our Facebook page.

WENDLAND: And what does it say now?

HILL: The last little boy's birthday that was on the day of the flood, Tyler. Happy birthday, Tyler is 10.

WENDLAND: 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.

ADAM KNAPP: We'd been seeing the best days this economy has seen in probably 20 years have been in the last two years. The job rates have been hitting record numbers for the capital region. And then we hit the flooding, and the flooding puts this huge question mark on the economy.

WENDLAND: 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, and that would be way too expensive. And she didn't have flood insurance.

HILL: To start all over - it would be like starting over new.

WENDLAND: Officials are counting on the day cares, 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.

KNAPP: So 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.

WENDLAND: The U.S. Small Business Administration has set up disaster recovery centers to help. Field officer Garth MacDonald says so far the SBA has given out disaster loans to almost 300 businesses.

GARTH MACDONALD: They can borrow for IT equipment. They can borrow for machinery and equipment. They can borrow for automobiles that deliver products.

WENDLAND: For many, loans aren't 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.

KNAPP: In this case, where there's a lot of uncertainty in their market, a loan is something that is very concerning. So they are probably trying to max out credit cards or look at other ways they can find some capital.

WENDLAND: So the chamber started a small grant program, giving out up to $10,000 to individual businesses - about 700 applied. For now, Hill will keep coming to the day care every day to clean up, partly because she doesn't know what else to do.

HILL: Well, this is just home to me. This is all I've ever known.

WENDLAND: 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 child care, and some are skipping work to stay home with their kids. For NPR News, I'm Tegan Wendland in Denham Springs, Louisiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tegan Wendland is a freelance producer with a background in investigative news reporting. She currently produces the biweekly segment, Northshore Focus.