Congress passes spending for hurricane aid

May 25, 2007

Reported by: Associated Press

Congress while passing a war spending bill late last night also approved about $3.6 billion in aid to help the Gulf Coast recover from the 2005 hurricanes.

The bill includes a provision that would waive a local ten percent match requirement for federal rebuilding dollars for roads, public buildings and other infrastructure. That's something Louisiana and New Orleans, particularly, had pushed as a way to help speed the sluggish recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Previously federal funds were set aside for local governments to tap to cover their match, but state officials blamed red tape for preventing that from happening. State officials envisioned that money being divided among hurricane-hit communities to help them implement their rebuilding plans, if a waiver were granted.

However, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority said yesterday that the state may need to use the money instead to help fill-in an expected shortfall of nearly three billion dollars in the state-run Road Home program.

Natalie Wyeth says while parishes clearly have a need for that aid, the top priority rests with helping homeowners.

State congressional leaders and Governor Kathleen Blanco hailed the passage of the legislation, which next goes to President Bush. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says he looks forward to Bush signing the measure and to working with state and federal officials to ensure that funds critical to recovery aren't caught up in bureaucracy.

The measure also includes $1.3 billion for levee work in the New Orleans area and aid for fishermen in Gulf Coast states affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and to help recruit teachers to the region. It also allows for the forgiveness of federal disaster loans secured after the hurricanes.