- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2007

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Homeowners whose properties were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina hustled to meet a deadline to apply for rebuilding grants, but many had little faith in the federally funded program.

Residents had until yesterday to request up to $150,000 from the state-administered Road Home program. It is funded with $6.4 billion, but if everyone eligible applied, it would face an estimated $5 billion shortfall.

“If the government doesn’t give me any assistance, then I guess I’m going to have to go overextend myself and take out a loan,” Bessie Griffin, 59, said Friday as she waited to meet with Road Home representatives.

As the deadline approached, several dozen property owners gathered at First Pilgrim Baptist Church in New Orleans to fill out applications or press officials for answers about pending applications.

Joe Cox, 41, and his wife, Tara, 37, applied for a Road Home grant several months ago and were still waiting to hear whether they were eligible.

“We’re not holding out much hope,” Mrs. Cox said.

That didn’t stop the couple from slowly rebuilding on their own, without Road Home’s assistance.

“It’s a matter of adjusting expectations,” Mr. Cox said. “We didn’t expect anything from it.”

One day last month, Road Home applications peaked at 1,600. Whether any money will be left for last-minute applicants remains to be seen.

State officials set an application deadline for what once was an open-ended program because they want to know how many people are eligible. They can then seek money from Congress to fill the gap.

They also are working on a plan to reshuffle federal recovery aid and use state surplus money to raise $1 billion. The plan needs approval from state lawmakers and federal officials.

Andy Kopplin, executive director of Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco’s Louisiana Recovery Authority, said the program is awarding about 10,000 grants a month, which comes to about $750 million.

Even with the $1 billion boost, the authority estimates the program will run out of money by mid-December without additional cash. It estimates that 49,000 eligible homeowners won’t receive grants if Congress doesn’t provide extra funding.

More than $2.5 billion in grants have been handed out to more than 38,800 homeowners. Another $5.1 billion in benefits have been calculated for 72,500 additional applicants, exceeding the funding on hand even with the $1 billion bailout.

Now that the state has committed some of its money to a Road Home bailout, officials hope to get more for the program in an Iraq war spending bill expected to come before Congress in September or October.

Congressional leaders have expressed support for a Road Home bailout, but the White House has been less committal. Donald Powell, President Bush’s Gulf Coast recovery chief, hasn’t indicated whether the White House would back more aid.



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