Sunday, May 27, 2007

Congress Passes Major Recovery Legislation (Finally!)

Finally, some good news for the Gulf Coast from Congress! (But with a catch, as described below.) The Iraq War supplemental passed by Congress wasn’t just an Iraq War supplemental. It also contained $6.4 billion in funding for Katrina recovery. According to the Times Picayune and BayouBuzz.com, the funding included:

• $3 billion, by waiving the Stafford Act requirement that state and local governments pay 10% of FEMA disaster costs. The law has been waived 33 times since 1985 – makes you wonder what took them so long. This eliminates lots of paperwork, so perhaps will help cut through red tape.
• $1.3 billion for further repairs to New Orleans-area levees
• $320 million to forgive Gulf Coast community disaster loans
• $50 million to fight crime
• $35 million for public transportation hit by Katrina and Rita
• $30 million to attract educators
• $30 million for hurricane-damaged universities
• $110 million for the Gulf fishing industry
• $25 million for Southeast Louisiana drainage projects.
• $10 million for historic preservation grants
• $10 million for local governments to use FEMA funds for shelter utility expenses
• Various tax and business provisions
• One-year extension of the deadline to use $150 million in Social Services Block Grants to September 2008

In addition to the hurricane recovery funds, $1 billion for new National Guard equipment will help the Louisiana National Guard prepare for future hurricanes. "In a Category 1 hurricane, Louisiana National Guard has what it needs to do the job," Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said. "But as soon as it reaches a Category 3, it doesn't."

This is the first major legislation passed by Congress for Katrina victims since late 2005. Louisiana politicians of both parties praised the funding. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), who helped craft the bill, had lots to say. “This was a landmark vote for south Louisiana’s continued recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the flooding that followed. The local match requirement costs our communities millions of dollars while drowning them in thousands of forms and regulations. Louisiana needs more money and less paper.” Senator David Vitter (R) added, “The people of Louisiana will finally receive the funding they need.” Rep. Charlie Melancon (D) was happy the Democratic leadership didn’t remove the funding from the bill as the President demanded. "I want to thank the House leadership for staying true to their word,” he said.

Some of the funding also applies to Mississippi. Mississippi has been better about securing disaster relief all along, thanks to its well connected Republican Governor, Haley Barbour.

Continue to problems with the bill.

Photo: Sen. Mary Landrieu. Image courtesy.

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