Donelon pushes lawmakers to fund grants for hurricane-proof roofs

Lawmakers established the program last year but didn’t put money into it

By: - March 30, 2023 6:00 am
A construction worker nails shingles into a roof

(Canva image)

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon wants state lawmakers to fund a grant program that helps homeowners reinforce their roofs to withstand Category 4 hurricanes.

Update: Following publication of this article, Donelon’s office said he plans to request $20 million to fund the Fortify Homes Program.

Donelon prodded lawmakers to establish the Louisiana Fortify Homes Program last year, but they opted not to fund it. Modeled off legislation Alabama enacted a few years ago, the program would offer grants of up to $10,000 for homeowners to retrofit their roofs to standards set by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety.

The standards call for new construction techniques and better fasteners and seals that allow roofs to withstand winds up to 150 mph and keep water from leaking through the wood underlayment. 

“If you can keep water from getting through, even if shingles do come off…you save 90% of the claim,” Donelon told Senate Finance Committee members Wednesday. The panel is hearing from state agencies ahead of the regular legislative session that convenes April 10.

Donelon did not say how much money the program might need, and Gov. John Bel Edwards didn’t include any such funding in his budget proposal. Nevertheless, Donelon wants the program to offer individual grants of about $10,000. Alabama’s program attracted no interest from homeowners when it first offered amounts less than that, he said. 

During the 2023 special legislative session to address the state’s insurance crisis, Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield, tried to fund the fortification program with an amendment tacked onto a $45 million incentive program Donelon is using to lure property insurance companies to the state. However, he had to withdraw the amendment because it was outside of the allowed scope of the special session. 


Donelon is also calling for a provision in state law that will require insurance companies to offer discounts to homeowners who complete the fortification standards. Currently, the law allows — but does not require — insurers to offer those discounts. 

When lawmakers introduced the fortified homes legislation last year, the original bill mandated those premium discounts, but that mandate was dropped from the final version.

“Somewhere in the process, ‘must’ was changed — just one word — to ‘may,’ and guess who asked for that change?” Donelon said. “I don’t know, but it wasn’t us.” 

Sen. Mike Fesi, R-Houma, questioned whether any discount would be enough to generate interest in his district where most houses have had their roofs replaced within the past few years. 

“I wish we could’ve done something prior to all these new roofs,” Fesi said. “I guess my question is: If the consumer decides to start moving in that direction, will we get a good drastic decrease in insurance rates?”

Donelon backs ‘tort reform’ for homeowner’s insurance

Donelon said he anticipates the fortified roofs will give homeowners discounts of about 20% and will also strengthen the insurance market in Louisiana. It made the market in Alabama “much more attractive to insurers,” he said. 

Several lawmakers have already answered the call. Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, has pre-filed House Bill 294, and Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, has submitted House Bill 309. Both would mandate fortified roof discounts. 

Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, has pre-filed House Bill 110, which would require insurers to endorse the fortified roof standards.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi.