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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Katrina victims ask Shelby for help

Housing bill mainly aimed at Louisiana
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- After huddling with frustrated south Mobile County residents Tuesday morning, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby pressed federal officials to tackle local housing needs left over from Hurricane Katrina, but did not endorse residents' plea for up to $400 million in additional aid.

Rather than provide more money, lawmakers may need to make sure that funding already proposed is "allocated fairly," Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said after a Senate banking committee hearing on a bill aimed at assuring that affordable housing lost to Katrina is replaced. Shelby is the panel's top Republican.

The bill is largely geared toward Louisiana. Before the hearing, Shelby heard privately from the group of some 11 activists and residents of Coden and other unincorporated parts of the county.

About 2,000 people from those areas are still living in government-furnished campers, a year after environmental tests registered dangerous level of indoor formaldehyde, Zack Carter, an organizer with the Montgomery-based citizens' group, Alabama Arise, said. But the senator would not commit to trying to amend the recovery act by adding $200 million to $400 million, according to Carter.

"It wasn't a 'no,' so that's something," Carter said. Instead, Carter said, a second meeting is planned this Friday. Another option would be to add the money to a supplemental spending bill, he said.

During the hearing, Shelby did prod administrators with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, on whether they had done enough for the south end of the county. "A lot of people in those areas that were heavily impacted -- their needs have not been addressed," he said.

In response, Robert Duncan, a HUD senior project manager, said the state has been allotted about $24 million for housing needs. Of that amount, only $4 million has so far been spent, Duncan said.

That disclosure appeared to surprise Shelby, who said afterward that he would follow up. Even if all available money is used, "it's going to take much more than what is there at this point," said Stephenie Bosarge, a Coden bookkeeper.

As the Press-Register has previously reported, however, the major bottleneck is at the county level, where 1,166 applications for aid are still pending. County officials hope to begin getting rebuilding help to people by year's end, Annette McGrady, a consultant working on the issue, said Tuesday.

The banking committee has not announced a date to proceed with the bill. The measure's lead sponsor is the panel's chairman, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. Dodd, who is running for president, did not attend Tuesday's hearing.

In an e-mail, spokesman Marvin Fast attributed the senator's absence to an unspecified scheduling conflict. Dodd "intends to continue to work to advance this legislation ... ," Fast said.

Alabama Press-Register originally published this article here.
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