Sen. Landrieu Secures More Than $3 Billion for Louisiana In Senate Spending Bill
Bill also corrects unfair hurricane recovery funding rules.
WASHINGTON - From her seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, United States Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today secured more than $3 billion in key funding for hurricane recovery and other projects for Louisiana in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill.
"By correcting unfair policies that have snared our rebuilding efforts in red tape and bureaucratic obstacles, this bill helps put our recovery on a stronger footing," Sen. Landrieu said. "It also directs more than $3 billion to strengthen our efforts to fight crime and to rebuild Louisiana levees, businesses, colleges and communities.
"I was proud to work with Chairman Byrd to secure these funds from my seat on the Appropriations Committee, and as the bill moves to the floor and the White House, I will keep fighting to make sure the people of Louisiana get a fair, fighting chance to recover from two of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history. Louisianians look to the federal government to be a rebuilding partner, not a rebuilding obstacle, and I will continue to work to cut through the red tape."
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.V., Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said, "The people of Louisiana have the strength and the spirit to rebuild their homes and their communities. We owe them the support to get the job done. Senator Landrieu is working hard to make sure that the Congress makes good on the promises made to the people of the Gulf Coast, and I will continue to stand with her at every step of the way."
In the supplemental spending bill, Sen. Landrieu secured inclusion of language that would waive for Katrina- and Rita-affected communities provisions of the Robert T. Stafford Act that require 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.
"This match requirement and the paperwork it creates are reducing the speed of recovery in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast," Sen. Landrieu said. "The President has the authority to move Gulf Coast recovery forward with a single stroke of his pen, but has refused to use this authority. It will literally take an act of Congress to remove this bureaucratic stranglehold from our recovery and that's what we're fighting to accomplish."
Disaster Loan Forgiveness
Sen. Landrieu also secured language that would make Katrina- and Rita-affected Gulf Coast states eligible for the same Community Disaster Loan forgiveness option made available to all other disaster-stricken communities. The Stafford Act has historically required forgiveness of such loans when independent audits determine the fiscal recovery of affected local communities is insufficient to repay the loans after a three-year grace period.
"The Federal Government enacted a double-standard when it prohibited Katrina- and Rita-affected areas in the Gulf Coast from being eligible for Community Disaster Loan forgiveness," Sen. Landrieu said. "This provision in the supplemental appropriations bill corrects a big mistake that was made in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes and will remove a significant obstacle to the recovery of the region."
Shortly after the hurricanes, Sen. Landrieu proposed making $1 billion in unspent FEMA funds available for Community Disaster Loans under the same terms as had been afforded to other communities. But the version that was passed in October 2005, sponsored by Senators David Vitter, R-La., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., specifically prohibited the federal government from ever forgiving the loans if communities were unable to pay them back.
This marked the first time in American history that loan forgiveness was excluded as an option for qualifying local governments, and the prohibition was specific to Katrina-affected states, not any future loans outside the Gulf Coast. In the 29 years of the program, 64 loan applications have been received regarding 21 federal disasters, with approximately 93 percent being deemed by independent auditors as warranting partial or complete forgiveness. According to press accounts, $227 billion in Community Disaster Loans have been forgiven since 1974.
"I have been fighting for fair lending terms since Katrina and Rita struck our coast," Sen. Landrieu said today. "This bill would finally give Gulf Coast communities a fair opportunity to reopen schools, rebuild key infrastructure and keep police cars, fire trucks and sanitation vehicles rolling as they bring communities back to life."
Sen. Landrieu also introduced an amendment to the 9/11 bill that would have made Katrina and Rita community disaster loans forgivable.
Sen. Landrieu also secured $1.3 billion for east and west bank levee projects in the New Orleans area. When cost overruns created a $1.3 billion shortfall in the projects, originally authorized by the 3rd Supplemental bill passed last year, the Bush Administration sought to shuffle the money away from other levee projects authorized in the 4th Supplemental bill. The funds secured by Sen. Landrieu would address the shortfall with direct funding, rather than simply borrowing funds and creating a shortfall in another set of levee projects instead.
"Levee projects are essential to our safety and our ability to rebuild," Sen. Landrieu said. "The administration wants to move $1.3 billion from one levee project to another, but that will only leave our flood-control system vulnerable during future disasters. A Washington shell game won't build strong levees and effective flood protection. We need real money to get that done."
Sen. Landrieu also secured $150 million for the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project (SELA), which provides for engineering, design and construction of projects for flood control and improvements to rainfall drainage systems in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany Parishes.
"SELA will provide essential improvements to this area's flood control system," Sen. Landrieu said. "I will continue to work to ensure that it gets the funding it needs to better prepare southeast Louisiana for a natural disaster."
Sen. Landrieu secured $70 million to curb crime along the Gulf Coast, with $55 million designated specifically to Louisiana. The funding is intended to go to several projects, including nearly $7 million for the New Orleans Common Good program, a plan proposed by a coalition of local civic and business groups, which will give the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) funding it needs to fight crime as New Orleans continues to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The funding allows the NOPD to hire more officers and give Orleans Parish the ability to hire eight additional prosecutors.
"I will continue to do everything in my power to stem crime in the New Orleans area," Sen. Landrieu said. "Safe neighborhoods are essential to rebuilding, and this funding will provide some of the resources our criminal justice system badly needs."
The New Orleans anti-crime package will also develop an Orleans Parish Information Sharing and Integrated Systems project. The system will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal justice operations by increasing information sharing across agencies, streamlining business processes and promoting transparency and accountability.
Of the $55 million that Sen. Landrieu secured to fight crime in Louisiana, $38 million is intended to assist the criminal operations of five parishes in south Louisiana. The money would assist the Cameron, Calcasieu, St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Orleans Parish Sheriff's Offices and the NOPD through the Byrne Grant program at the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
Sen. Landrieu and the Appropriations Committee also appropriated $2 million for the Louisiana Supreme Court to support Civil Court record digitization program administered by the COPS Law Enforcement Technology Program.
"Paper records are exceptionally vulnerable during flooding," Sen. Landrieu said. "Record digitization will give the Louisiana Supreme Court necessary security to ensure that all of its files are preserved."
Sen. Landrieu also secured funding in the bill for the following projects:
Extension of the deadline to use $150 million in Social Services Block Grants from September 2007 to Sept. 30, 2008;
$15 million for additional historic preservation grants in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita;
$10 million to allow local governments to use FEMA funds for utility expenses associated with shelter evacuees for 24 months;
$65 million for fisheries recovery in Louisiana;
$25 million for Small Business Administration (SBA) economic injury loans;
Extension of Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) status to Hurricane Katrina- and Rita-affected parishes for two years, which can be extended to three years at the SBA's discretion;
$30 million in additional funding to help defray expenses incurred by higher education institutions that were forced to close, relocate or curtail their activities as a result of the 2005 hurricanes. This provision also allows the money to be used for grants to students;
$75 million for Federal Transit grants for operating and capital costs for transit services impacted for Katrina and Rita, which included the LA Swift bus from Baton Rouge to New Orleans and also waived the local cost share;
Gulf Coast Public Housing Agencies in areas that received emergency assistance after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will receive allocations based on their 2006 funding;
$11 million to provide 75% of the cost of replanting trees lost due to natural disasters in excess of 15% mortality under the Tree Assistance Program;
$15 million for crops, including irrigated crops. The crops are covered up to 55 percent of the established price for a given year.