- The Washington Times - Monday, November 21, 2005

The federal government will reimburse Louisiana for 100 percent of hurricane cleanup and emergency services through Jan. 15, waiving the 25 percent typically charged to disaster-area states.

In addition, displaced residents from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which ravaged the Gulf Coast, will be able to stay in hotels past Dec. 1, using housing aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Federal disaster aid typically requires states to pay a quarter of the cleanup and some emergency costs, but President Bush authorized full funding Saturday because of the extraordinary challenges faced by state and local governments in a crippled economy.

Federal officials have yet to release an estimate of what the relief effort will cost.

So far, the federal government has budgeted $2 billion alone for cleaning up the debris, which covers 90,000 square miles.

“It’s a big mess,” said Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman.

Mr. Bush granted the same relief coverage to Florida last year after it was slammed by four hurricanes.

“This additional federal funding will help Louisiana recover … and demonstrates our ongoing commitment to work with our state and local partners,” said Scott Wells, a FEMA spokesman.

The funding comes as the Louisiana Legislature ends its special session tonight to cut spending and consider tax breaks to deal with a $959 million deficit.

So far, the House and Senate are considering $600 million in budget cuts and might tap into the state’s “rainy day” fund to fulfill the state’s $18 billion budget needs through the fiscal year ending in June. State law requires the legislature to maintain a balanced budget.

And as December begins, FEMA will replace its program of paying hotels directly to shelter evacuees with an assistance program that gives nearly $3,000 in rental money directly to those displaced. The money can be used to rent a hotel room or for short-term housing, such as apartment. Evacuees will not be forced out of hotels as had been reported, Miss Andrews said.

Some black leaders said the government should extend the hotel payment program past Dec. 1. The Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote to Mr. Bush, warning that ending the program will leave thousands homeless.

“It will make a disaster out of the disaster-relief efforts,” Mr. Jackson said.

Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the deadline and changes are disruptive to overburdened families.

“The orderly relocation of these families is a top priority of the NAACP and one that I will personally pursue vigorously. I understand the need to control costs and I agree that these families need a more permanent living arrangement, but a government agency that is supposed to help people should not act prematurely and create further hardships,” Mr. Gordon said.

Miss Andrews said that FEMA’s goal is to get residents out of hotels and into short-term housing and that rent-assistance funding has been sent to 500,000 applicants.

“We are not discontinuing the program; we will continue to help people and also find housing for the majority of people remaining in hotels. They can use FEMA rental-assistance money and stay, but what were are doing is eliminating a double program right now that funds both hotels and rental assistance,” Miss Andrews said.

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