Real Solutions for the Gulf Coast Region

March 1, 2007
Today, President Bush is making his first trip to the Gulf Coast in six months. House Democrats have prepared a briefing for him entitled, "America's Gulf Coast, Month 18: Outstanding Issues," outlining just some of the problems the President should address.

President Bush and congressional Republicans have made many promises to the survivors of the hurricanes, but most have been broken. Largely as a result, much of the Gulf Coast remains devastated, and residents continue to suffer from inadequate housing, health care and other basic services, and an infrastructure that cannot support badly needed economic development.

Now that Democrats are in control, we are moving swiftly to pass effective recovery legislation. Last month, Whip Clyburn convened "the first in a series of meetings of Democratic leadership, committee chairmen, Gulf Coast members and Tri-Caucus chairmen to discuss the needs and legislative priorities related to the relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita." The committees with jurisdiction are Appropriations, Ways and Means, Financial Services, Transportation and Infrastructure, Small Business, Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, and Judiciary. In addition, Whip Clyburn introduced The Hurricane Katrina and Rita Federal Match Relief Act of 2007, to immediately address the bureaucratic red tape faced by Gulf Coast residents and speed up funding assistance.

Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, and Whip Clyburn issued the following joint statement yesterday on the Democratic commitment to find real solutions for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and Rita:

Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster, compounded by a man-made disaster. It is now 18 months past time to get our response right. With the leadership of the Gulf Coast Congressional delegation, this Congress is committed to finding real solutions for communities in the region. And we are taking action now.

We must begin by making it easier for Gulf Coast residents to return home. In March, the House Financial Services Committee will consider the Katrina Housing Recovery Act to cut the red tape on $1.2 billion in FEMA funding for use in Louisiana's Road Home program. This will encourage displaced residents to return to the state. The bill also releases recipients of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from unnecessary restrictions placed on them last year, ensures that affordable housing will be made available to former residents of public housing in New Orleans, and provides reimbursement to communities that used their own CDBG funds to host Katrina evacuees.

We must treat the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast region the same as the survivors of Hurricanes Andrew and Iniki, and of course the 9/11 attacks. Tomorrow, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will consider the Hurricane Katrina and Rita Federal Match Relief Act of 2007, which waives the 25 percent local funding match required under the Stafford Act and cancels the required repayment of Community Disaster Loans. After a disaster, state governments should be using their resources to help their residents and not be worried about paying back the federal government. We have asked the President repeatedly to waive the matching requirement, and we urge him again to do so.

Much more needs to be done. In the days and weeks to come, we will take further action to address the needs of the region. This is only the beginning of our hard work on recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We remain committed to finding real solutions for the communities on the Gulf Coast, related to housing, education, health care, insurance and accountability. We hope President Bush, who is touring the region tomorrow, will join in our efforts to bring real relief to the Gulf Coast region.