[StBernard] Advocate Endorses Governor Blanco's and LRA's Push to Waive Ten Percent Match

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Mon Mar 19 23:21:41 EDT 2007

Advocate Endorses Governor Blanco's and LRA's Push to Waive Ten Percent Match

Over recent weeks, several national and local editorial pages have called on President Bush to waive Louisiana's federal cost share as the state rebuilds from the first and third most catastrophic disasters in American history. The cost share requirement was waived for New York following 9/11 and Florida after Hurricane Andrew.

EDITORIAL: Paying Bills for Recovery
The Advocate
March 19, 2007

The people of Louisiana have a right to feel special. We are unique: taxpayers hit by devastating hurricanes, then assisted with a fumbling performance from our federal government - and now we're getting a bill to pay back to the U.S. Treasury part of what recovery aid we got.

Truly special.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Unlike disaster zones in 32 previous instances, unlike the wealthier New Yorkers hit by the 2001 terrorist attacks, Louisiana's local governments are supposed to pay back 10 cents on each federal dollar spent on rebuilding public and nonprofit facilities damaged by storms.

That's the law, in the Stafford Act governing disaster spending. Yes, the same Stafford Act that has been shown to be incredibly inflexible and poorly constructed for a disaster the size of the 2005 hurricanes in Louisiana.

Yet the Stafford Act has one significant instance of flexibility, the power of the president of the United States to waive matching funds for recovery spending. That match is more than $700 million, and the president flatly refuses to waive it for Louisiana, even though it's been routine in previous disasters.

The president's rationale, as expressed by the Amarillo banker installed as recovery coordinator, is that the state is getting $10.4 billion in grants. Plenty, coordinator Donald Powell said, to pay the 10 percent match.

Throughout this crisis, Powell's attitude has been that Louisiana already has gotten its money. It took almost house-by-house counting to demonstrate to Powell's satisfaction that Louisiana's first housing grant was grossly inadequate to the need.

We don't want to be too critical of Powell here. He's guarding the money, and that's what he was hired to do. To his credit, he's gone to bat for Louisiana for more aid in the past, as he did for more housing aid once Louisiana officials justified it. But he can't wish away the fact that $700 million would go a long way toward meeting the huge costs ahead for hurricane recovery.

Those costs are not going to go away, and reconstruction of public facilities, streets and sewers - all the basics - will require future federal aid if today's grant money is used to pay back the match.

The president has the power to waive the match, thus allocating more than $700 million to reconstruction needs. If he doesn't do that, it not only appears petty in light of the need, but discriminatory in light of precedents.

Refusal means Louisiana has to go hat in hand to Congress or federal agencies to fight all over from scratch for basic aid. The president will condemn future aid requests to uphill battles through Congress and the bureaucracy.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, claiming 1,464 lives, destroying more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the planning and coordinating body that was created in the aftermath of these storms by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.


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