[StBernard] Melancon To Vote for Final Passage of Massive Hurricane Disaster Assistance Bill

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Apr 26 22:23:50 EDT 2007

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon announced today he will
vote in support of final passage of the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans'
Health and Iraq Accountability Act (H.R. 1591), commonly referred to as the
Iraq Supplemental Appropriations bill. The final bill provides $6.9 billion
in hurricane recovery and relief funding for Louisiana and other Gulf Coast
states. If the bill passes the House today, it will then go to the Senate
for final passage and then to the President for his signature or veto.

"My first priority in Congress is to represent the people of south
Louisiana, and this bill goes a long way in meeting our needs as we recover
from Katrina and Rita and try to prepare for future storms," said Rep.
Melancon. "This supplemental bill will provide $6.9 billion in much-needed
hurricane relief money for our shrimpers, schools, colleges and
universities, and local governments in south Louisiana. It also cuts a lot
of the red tape that has crippled our recovery efforts and provides an
additional $1.3 billion in funding for levee projects. This supplemental is
a good bill for Louisiana, and I am proud to support it."

"Because of new budgetary rules in Congress, the opportunity for
this much help for hurricane victims will not come again. As I've said
before, this is the last train leaving the station, and we need to make sure
Louisiana is on it."

"I am also pleased this bill fully funds our troops fighting bravely
in Iraq and Afghanistan, and provides billions for better health care for
our returning soldiers and veterans. I had concerns with the mandatory
withdrawal date in the original House bill, and I am pleased the final bill
we are sending to the President does not include this deadline. Instead,
this bill sets benchmarks and goals for the Iraqis to meet. While I
strongly believe our military is the greatest and most powerful force in the
history of the world, ultimately it will be the Iraqi people and their
government who will have to decide if they want peace and democracy in their
country. They must take responsibility for their own future."

Among the hurricane recovery needs Rep. Melancon had called for that
are included in the final supplemental bill are: funding for additional
fisheries disaster relief, funding construction of the levee protection
system on both the east and west bank in New Orleans and surrounding
parishes, money for K-12 teacher recruitment and higher education
assistance, the extension of a federal grant program for critically needed
social services, and billions in funding for FEMA disaster recovery grants,
with no local or state match required. Also included in the supplemental is
language allowing Hurricane Katrina and Rita community disaster loans to be
forgiven, an initiative Rep. Melancon has been working on with House
Majority Whip James E. Clyburn and other Member of Congress from the Gulf

The bill also includes over $100 billion to fund the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, which is over $4 billion more than the President requested,
and more than $5 billion to ensure that returning troops and veterans
receive the health care that they have earned with their service. $3 billion
is included for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, which have
specially designed bottoms that help deflect the force of roadside bombs,
the principal killer of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Finally, the bill includes provisions increasing the minimum wage by
$2.10 over two years, to $7.25 an hour. It also includes a $4.8 billion
package of small business tax relief, which is fully offset.

Specifically, the supplemental includes the following provisions and
funding to assist Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states with hurricane

$110 Million for Fisheries Disaster Assistance. This includes $85
million for fisheries disaster assistance programs, including the first
substantial direct relief for shrimpers since the 2005 storms. It also
includes $24 million for scanning and mapping as well as debris removal in
Louisiana's traditional fishing grounds and $1 million to improve
forecasting for maritime navigation at high priority seaports along the

"While I am pleased shrimpers are finally getting the direct relief
they need to recover from Katrina and Rita, they shouldn't have had to wait
20 months for help from their government," said Rep. Melancon.

Waiver of Local Match for Disaster Recovery Projects. The
supplemental includes language waiving 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.

Shortly after the House Katrina Working Group was formed in
February, Rep. Melancon joined Majority Whip Clyburn in introducing
legislation -- the Hurricane Katrina and Rita Federal Match Relief Act of
2007 -- to waive this local match requirement. Removing the state and local
match for federal assistance grants would allow Louisiana to invest an
estimated additional $800 million in critical needs, including repairing our
police stations, fire stations and other important infrastructure. The local
match requirement has been waived 32 times since 1985 when per capita
rebuilding costs have been excessive.

$1.3 billion for East and West Bank Levee Protection in New Orleans
and Surrounding Parishes. Rep. Melancon urged House appropriators to
include this additional levee money in the supplemental bill after he
learned that the Army Corps was facing a budget shortfall on critical south
Louisiana levee projects due to increased labor and material costs in the
region. The President's request originally proposed taking money from other
hurricane protection projects in order to make up the shortfall, but Rep.
Melancon and House appropriators agreed that direct funding would better
ensure that all critical hurricane protection projects have enough money.

Community Disaster Loan Forgiveness. Rep. Melancon asked House
appropriators to add a provision to the supplemental making Katrina- and
Rita-affected communities eligible for Community Disaster Loan forgiveness.
The loans were provided by the federal government to hurricane-affected
local governments immediately following Katrina and Rita to help them
continue daily operations, such as payroll for law enforcement and emergency
responders. Many local governments do not have the ability to repay this
massive debt, as their tax bases were devastated by the storms. Rep.
Melancon has argued that, in the past, CDLs have been forgiven following
many other major disasters, including Hurricane Andrew and the September
11th terrorist attacks. 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. Local governments in Louisiana say this
loan forgiveness would relieve them of an estimated $1 billion in debt they
don't have the tax base to repay.

$4.61 Billion For the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). The DRF
funds FEMA disaster recovery grants, which are used for vital recovery
projects like repairing sewage and water treatment facilities; rebuilding
public buildings like schools, firehouses, and police departments; and
hauling away debris from the storm. In Louisiana alone, there are over
23,000 of these public assistance projects to repair and rebuild public
buildings and infrastructure.

$30 Million For K-12 Education Recruitment Assistance And $30
Million For Higher Education Assistance. This funding provision will
provide much-needed emergency funding to schools and institutes of higher
education in Louisiana and other hurricane-affected states along the Gulf
Coast. The purposes and concept are similar to a longer-term recovery bill
Rep. Melancon joined House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George
Miller in introducing in early March, The Revitalizing New Orleans by
Attracting America's Leaders (RENEWAAL) Act of 2007. The RENEWAAL Act
provides incentives to qualified teachers and principals that stay in or
return to hurricane-impacted public schools and commit to work there for at
least three years. The bill will also a! ssist these educators with
relocation costs to move back, housing and student loan forgiveness. In
addition, higher education institutions that are still struggling with the
aftermath of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina would receive help in recruiting
and retaining faculty and students. The funding in the emergency
supplemental will be used for the same purposes.

Strengthens Tax Incentives For Building Affordable Rental Housing In
Hurricane-Affected Areas Of The Gulf Coast. The supplemental also
strengthens tax incentives for building affordable rental housing in
hurricane-affected areas of the Gulf Coast. Key provisions in the Katrina
Housing Tax Relief Act of 2007, which Rep. Melancon co-sponsored and spoke
in support of when the House considered it last month, were included in the
. The GO Zone tax credits were extended for an additional two
years, making the deadline for units to be inhabited December 31, 2010
instead of the end of 2008. At a hearing in March, the Ways and Means
Committee had learned that one of the key problems regarding housing in the
Gulf Coast region was that the 2008 deadline might not be met in some
hard-hit areas.
. Language included preventing Community Development Block
Grants from being taken into account in determining whether a building is
federally subsidized under the low-income housing credit provisions of the
GO Zone Act. Federally subsidized properties receive a smaller credit than
those that are not subsidized, so this provision ensures that developers
could get the larger credit. This would apply to property built and
inhabited by December 31, 2010.

* Expanding access to low-income financing for homeowners in
hurricane-affected areas of the Gulf Coast. Mortgage Revenue Bonds are
tax-exempt bonds that can be used to provide low-interest financing for home
purchases. Generally, the bonds cannot be used to refinance existing
mortgages. This bill would help homeowners in the Gulf Coast region by
modifying the program to allow funds to be used to refinance existing
mortgages on homes that were damaged by the hurricanes in the area. This
provision applies to financing provided before the end of calendar year

Housing Disaster Voucher Program Extension. The Supplemental
includes a general provision extending the Disaster Voucher Program until
December 31, 2007. The Disaster Voucher Program was created in the
Hurricane Katrina Supplemental in 2005 and was set to expire Sept. 30, 2007.
The Supplemental extends the program, but does not address funding, because
senior HUD officials have assured Congress that they will obligate any
remaining funding (approximately $80 million) by the expiration date of
Sept. 30, 2007. The remaining funding will be obligated by Sept. 30, 2007
and the funds can be used until December 31, 2007.

Extension Of FEMA Utility Subsidy Program For Essential Parish
Employees. (identical to H.R. 858, which Rep. Melancon introduced in early
February). Will extend for one more year FEMA's authority to reimburse
parish governments for the cost of paying utility bills for essential
government employees still working and living in temporary housing (i.e.,
FEMA trailers). Devastated parish governments have used this program as an
incentive to encourage essential employees, such as law enforcement
officers, to stay in the community and continue working for the parish.

Social Services Block Grant Extension. The $150 million in SSBG
grants already appropriated will be available for hurricane-affected areas
along the Gulf Coast for two extra years, until September 30, 2009. SSBG
funding provides critically needed social services including programs for
mental health, child welfare, and the treatment of addictive disorders.

Extension Of Education Waiver. (identical to H.R. 1262, which Rep.
Melancon introduced in early March). This language will extend a federal
waiver for one more year - until September 30, 2008 - that gives school
districts impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita more flexibility in
drawing down and utilizing federal money for recovery efforts.
Specifically, the waiver will allow schools to continue to use state money
for the 10% local match required by FEMA in order for them to be eligible
for the 90% federal reimbursement for recovery projects. The bill will also
allow school districts to use federal funds appropriated by Congress in the
Defense/Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 2863) to pay for
expenses state money would normally be used for, such as teachers' salaries
and school operational needs. Last fall, Rep. Melancon was an original
co-sponsor of successful legislation that extended the waiver until
September 30th, 2007.

$50 Million to Help State and Local Law Enforcement Curb Crime.
This funding is provided for local law enforcement initiatives in the Gulf
Coast region related to the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

$25 Million For Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury
Disaster Loans.

$11 million for HUD and FEMA Inspector General offices, to increase
scrutiny of hurricane recovery dollars.


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