What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Friday, August 24, 2007

Congress: A New Direction For The Gulf Coast

Honoring Our Promises, Establishing A Partnership for the Future

Last August, House Democrats traveled to the Gulf Coast on the solemn occasion of the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Their mission was to do the work the Republican-led Congress and the Administration were not doing--determine what resources the region needed to rebuild and restore their communities. They met with local officials and stakeholders and took home with them a list of outstanding needs for the region that the lawmakers were committed to providing.

A new Democratic majority in 2007 provided an opportunity to deliver on those promises, but their efforts were met with strong opposition from the White House.

Despite a presidential veto and Republican obstruction, in the first seven moths of a new Democratic majority the 110th Congress was able to send the president Katrina recovery legislation that was signed into law including:

  • waiving the local matching requirement under the Stafford Act, legislation which potentially has the greatest positive impact, saving the region $1.9 billion and allowing work to begin on 20,000 stalled projects;
  • appropriating $6.4 billion in assistance which helped bolster levees, restore the coastline, recruit teachers, keep schools open, maintain health facilities, assist farmers and fishermen, provide housing assistance, assist small businesses, retain law enforcement and other essential government employees; and
  • additionally, providing much-needed congressional oversight-House Committees have held over 30 hearings on Katrina recovery.
[See Action in the 110th Congress on Katrina recovery]

On August 12, 2007, House Democrats returned to the Gulf Coast, just prior to the Second Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, to assess the progress in the region and determine what needs remained. Their productive three day trip brought them to many places in Mississippi and New Orleans, including:
  • Pass Christian Mississippi, where the entire school district is
  • located on the campus on the one elementary school that survived the storm;
  • Bay St. Louis Mississippi, where at a standing-room-only town hall meeting the community discussed their inability to rebuild because insurance companies would not pay claims on wind damage to homes that were also damaged by flood waters;
  • the New Orleans Sewereage and Water Board where the system is on the brink of failure because of the emergency measures executed after Hurricane Katrina on an already aging system; and
  • Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, where Karen Vinsanau was beginning to rebuild with a Road Home grant. [see blogs]

House Democrats recommitted themselves to a New Direction for the Gulf Coast and a partnership for the future. They outlined a list of legislative priorities to improve housing, infrastructure, health care, and education, reform the insurance industry and FEMA bureaucracy, including:
  • Comprehensive housing assistance including aid for rental, public and low-income housing [HR 1227]
  • An estimated $550 million under the first year of the Federal Housing Reform Act [HR 1427, Pending in House-Senate Conference]
  • Water Resources Development Act [WRDA], which is under veto threat but would bolster coastal levees and provide funding for coastal restoration [Reported out of conference, HR 1495]
  • Disaster relief assistance for small businesses [HR 1468, and the RECOVER Act HR 1361]
[See new commitments]

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