Senate Democrats

Katrina Recovery: Two Years Later

Since January, Senate Democrats have made a strong commitment to the Gulf Coast region. Democrats have authorized and financed vital projects in the region while fighting obstacles imposed by the White House and executive branch agencies in getting aid to hurricane victims. Below is a brief summary of the commitment Democrats have made to the region and what we will accomplish.

Democrats fighting to provide needed assistance for the Gulf Coast:

Senate Democrats Secured Over $6 Billion For Gulf Coast Recovery Projects. The FY 2007 Supplemental Funding bill included approximately $6.3 billion for hurricane relief and recovery. Included in the bill was funding for disaster loan forgiveness, levee protection, flood control pumps, teacher recruitment and crime prevention. The supplemental spending bill was previously vetoed by President Bush because he opposed language setting a timetable for the redeployment of troops in Iraq. Of note, the bill’s $1.3 billion in levee protection funding for the Army Corps of Engineers was deemed “unnecessary” by the White House Office of Management and Budget. [Office of Senator Mary Landrieu, 5/24/07; CQ Today, 4/4/07; HR 2206, Senate Vote 181, 5/24/07]

Because of Efforts by Senate Democrats, Katrina and Rita Affected Communities Are Exempted from Crippling Matching Fund Requirements. Among the hurricane recovery provisions in the FY 2007 Supplemental Funding bill, was a waiver for Katrina- and Rita-affected communities from provisions of the so-called Stafford Act. The Stafford Act requires localities to match 10 percent of the cost for disaster recovery projects before the remaining 90 percent is filled by the federal government. This provision has been waived 32 times since 1985 when per capita rebuilding costs have been excessive. “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. The insurmountable red tape slows recovery to a crawl, and this bill is a key step to cutting through it,” said Senator Mary Landrieu. [Office of Senator Mary Landrieu Press Release, 5/24/07; HR 2206, Senate Vote 181, 5/24/07]

Senate Democrats Passed Small Business Disaster Assistance for Victims of Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Wilma. In August, the Senate unanimously approved bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Senator John Kerry, to improve assistance to business owners and homeowners after a disaster.The Small Business Disaster Response and Loan Improvements Act, seeks to improve assistance to disaster victims by: 1) establishing a private disaster loan program to be used in the aftermath of catastrophic disasters; 2) creating a new expedited disaster assistance business loan program; 3) creating a new presidential declaration of “Catastrophic National Disaster” that will allow the Small Business Administration to issue nationwide economic injury disaster loans to small businesses affected by a large-scale disaster; 4) improving the disaster loan application process; and 5) increasing the maximum size of a disaster loan and allows non-profit groups to be eligible for disaster loans. [S. 163, 8/3/07]

Senate Democrats Are Seeking Answers as to Why Poisonous Gas Was Present in FEMA Trailers Occupied by Hurricane Victims. Senate Democrats secured funding for comprehensive testing of Hurricane Katrina trailers that may contain toxic levels of formaldehyde, and forced a full investigation on why federal authorities refused to test occupied trailers for the gas after multiple complaints and incidents were reported from hurricane victims. The language for the testing and investigation was included in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill. According to reports, FEMA decided against testing occupied trailers for high levels of formaldehyde in trailers they provided, despite complaints since March 2006 from hurricane victims. According to FEMA, many trailer residents complained of frequent coughing, bloody noses and respiratory disorders from potential overexposure to the invisible gas. It was also reported that FEMA continued to deny there was a problem for over a year. According to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, “The primary source of the emissions in travel trailers seems to have been the pressed wood products used as flooring, cabinetry, and wallboard. The use of cheap, unsafe materials, and the agency’s failure to require adequate ventilation periods prior to deployment of these units, played a major role in exposing occupants to these toxic fumes.” [Office of Senator Mary Landrieu Press Release, 5/18/07; Office of Senator Barack Obama Press Release, 7/27/07]

Louisiana Senator Forced the Army Corp’s New Chief to Be Accountable to the Gulf Coast. Senator Mary Landrieu announced in April that she had placed a “procedural hold” on the nomination of Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp to be chief of the Army Corps of Engineers, which she said would be lifted when she received assurances from Van Antwerp and the Bush administration that they are ready to get serious about reforming the Army Corps bureaucracy. Van Antwerp ultimately did visit the region and Landrieu removed her hold. [CQ Today, 4/4/07; Roll Call, 6/12/07]

Democratic Senators Drafted Comprehensive Legislation to Help Families with Housing. In June, Senators Chris Dodd and Mary Landrieu announced the Gulf Coast Recovery Act, which much like the House version of the bill, guarantees the replacement of hurricane-devastated public housing and ensures that all those who wish to return home will have the opportunity to do so. In addition, the Senate bill also increases funds for property acquisition, mortgage assistance, low-income housing and community redevelopment. The measure opens a door for more innovative, independent management of New Orleans public housing. [Office of Senator Chris Dodd Press Release, 6/15/07]

Bush Administration continues to hinder Gulf Coast recovery:

President Bush Has Threatened to Veto a Bill with Vital Funding for Louisiana’s Levees. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which has received a veto threat by President Bush, authorizes approximately $21 billion for 900 projects and studies. Among the projects in the bill are funds for levee protection in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, as well as levee upgrades around New Orleans. [Times-Picayune, 8/11/07; CQ Weekly, 8/6/07]

President Bush’s Veto Threat of the Water Resources Bill Threatens Projects Aimed at Protecting Louisiana from Another Catastrophic Hurricane. The bill would authorize $1.9 billion for the restoration of coastal Louisiana. Also included in the is full authorization for the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane and storm protection system, closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, and channel deepening at the Port of Iberia. [CQ Weekly, 8/6/07; AP, 8/2/07]

President Bush Threatened to Veto the Bill with a Proposed Commission to Investigate the Levee Failures After Katrina. Senator Mary Landrieu joined a bi-partisan group of legislators, activists and non-profit organizations to push for an independent commission to investigate the failure of the levees in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, President Bush’s veto threat of the Water Resources bill places the commission’s creation in jeopardy. [Office of Senator Mary Landrieu Press Release, 8/9/07; Levees.Org]