Thursday, November 3, 2005

The Congressional Black Caucus yesterday introduced a “comprehensive” bill to help Gulf Coast residents recover from Hurricane Katrina and urged President Bush to keep his promise to begin combating poverty in the United States.

“There is nothing in this bill that is inconsistent with what the president said when he addressed the nation from … New Orleans in September,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, North Carolina Democrat and CBC chairman, speaking of the measure endorsed by all 42 caucus members.

Mr. Watt said the CBC used Mr. Bush’s benchmark of $200 billion for relief and recovery efforts to construct their funding formula, and said the caucus will request a meeting with him to discuss what aspects of the bill he can put forward through executive order.

Already this week, Mr. Bush agreed to rescind an earlier order exempting developers from Davis-Bacon requirements that mandate federal contractors to pay workers based on prevailing wage standards.

The bill calls for a fund for hurricane survivors similar to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Those out of work would get an extra $100 in unemployment assistance or a benefit 25 percent higher than the average for an additional six months, and qualified families would receive 100 percent federal payments of temporary assistance.

CBC members said among the most vital needs are housing and developing a strategy to help evacuees return home and reunite with their families.

“What we did was not create any new programs; we simply used existing programs … and put more money in,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

She said the Bush administration and House Republicans must recognize that the recovery cannot be done “on the cheap,” despite a tight budget and an expanding national debt and deficit.

The CBC proposal calls for a $5,000 tax credit for individuals or families displaced to buy or construct homes in the areas affected by Katrina.

Most caucus members said they likely will get Republican support on key pieces of the bill, particularly its education component, which puts more funding toward Head Start and child care development.

Two House Republicans, Reps. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and John A. Boehner of Ohio, lost a committee vote last week to provide education reimbursement to schools enrolling students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Mr. Watt said they may be among the first members the CBC will approach about getting funds to rebuild Dillard and Xavier universities, two historically black schools in New Orleans.

The caucus will be pushing the legislation through a national public-relations campaign and working with faith-based and civil rights groups to gain support.

“We need to create an atmosphere in our communities, churches and the private sector that whatever the cost, this has to be done,” Mr. Watt said.

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