Storm aid to La. may be increased
Senate panel will consider bill today
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
By Bruce Alpert Washington bureau
WASHINGTON -- The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up a supplemental spending bill today that would pay for increased costs for the war in Iraq and Gulf Coast hurricane recovery efforts. Advertisement
Details of panel Chairman Thad Cochran's proposal weren't available Monday, but officials said they expect the committee to consider increasing the $4.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant money requested for Louisiana by the Bush administration. The House approved the bill without the specific earmark for Louisiana.
A spokesman for Cochran, R-Miss., said details of the chairman's proposal won't be released until today.
An increase in Community Development Block Grant money would make it easier to target the original request entirely to Louisiana while providing money that Texas officials say they need to cover costs associated with caring for the thousands of evacuees in their state.
Texas officials had requested $2 billion in Community Development Block Grants, although it isn't certain whether the Appropriations Committee will agree to the entire request.
Although the House bill doesn't say how the block grants should be spent, the Bush administration, which ultimately determines how the money is distributed, has said that $4.2 billion should go Louisiana to help the state buy out properties that cannot be rebuilt and pay for raising homes to mitigate against flood damage. Louisiana officials had feared that Texas might seek a portion of that money.
It is unclear whether the panel will consider extra money to handle any of the additional $6 billion the Army Corps of Engineers said last week is needed to protect the New Orleans area against a hurricane with a 1 percent chance of striking the area in any given year -- the government standard for hurricane protection.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco is scheduled to join members of the Louisiana congressional delegation and some New Orleans area parish leaders at a Capitol Hill event today at noon to press the Bush administration and Congress to finance the additional levee work. The corps said the increased allocation is needed to offset the sinking landscape, rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency and strength of tropical storms in the Gulf.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., reiterated the request Monday in a letter to Donald Powell, the federal coordinator for Gulf Coast recovery.
The Vitter letter said the Bush administration should request some of the money for the new levee work in the current supplemental spending bill and the rest in an energy and water spending bill to be taken up soon. Vitter and other Louisiana congressional members had hoped the request would come before today's Appropriations Committee meeting, but it's still possible to add levee money later when the Senate takes up the bill -- probably in the next two to three weeks -- and when a final version is worked out by House-Senate negotiators.
Powell spokeswoman Susan Aspey said: "As the chairman (Powell) said last week, we are committed to rebuilding the Gulf Coast and we've been in consultation with Sen. Vitter and other members of the delegation on this (levee) issue."
Vitter urged the Bush administration to support revenue sharing legislation that would give Louisiana a portion of offshore royalty payments, which the senator said could provide much of the needed levee money. The new corps numbers last week increased the price tag of levee work for southeast Louisiana from $3.5 billion to $9.5 billion.
In his letter, Vitter reminded Powell that during a meeting Vitter arranged Thursday with other members of the Louisiana delegation, he called on the Bush administration to "present a plan immediately" to deal with the new corps estimates. "Since I have not heard from you, let me suggest outlines of such a plan."
Vitter then listed the three steps he believes the administration should take: requesting an authorization, adding appropriations in two separate bills, and supporting the revenue sharing plan.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 383-7861.