Thursday, March 09, 2006

Senator pans Texas' $2 billion storm aid request

What all this means is that Texas was going to withdraw this from its surplus and the surplus monies are probably ear-marked for bailing out the state in the upcoming April session on school finance--which gets underway, I hear, on April 18, 2006. The state's really going to be in a fix now. -Angela

Senator pans Texas' $2 billion storm aid request

09:39 AM CST on Thursday, March 9, 2006

By ALLEN PUSEY / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – An influential Missouri senator urged Senate colleagues Wednesday to vote against a Texas request for $2 billion in hurricane relief funding, likening its reception to more than 450,000 Katrina evacuees to those of a "paid companion."

A startled Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, later rejected the remarks as "unfair." But the sentiment expressed by Republican Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond suggests rough sailing ahead for the state's bid for federal funds.

"I know there are costs and burdens, but I need to be convinced that they [Texas] should be compensated," said Mr. Bond, describing the state's absorption of hurricane victims as mutually beneficial.

"They took in displaced families who receive benefits, fill empty housing and take on important jobs," he said. "And that should be part of the calculus.

"I think it's time we get back to being a good neighbor and not a paid companion," said the senator, who left the committee room by the time Ms. Hutchison had a chance to reply.

Ms. Hutchison told the committee that what Mr. Bond said "was particularly harsh and not at all fair or realistic."

"He seemed to indicate that he thought that we were asking for charitable contributions for the millions of dollars and hours that were put in by volunteers in Texas," she said. "That is not the case."

Texas received $70 million of $11 billion in Katrina-related federal grants, Ms. Hutchison said. And the state still houses more than 400,000 evacuees, including 38,000 school-age children. The Texas request includes nearly $1 billion in community block grant funding for various projects.

She said the state had exhausted its allotments of community grant funding by the time Hurricane Rita hit just a few weeks later, and victims of that hurricane have been shortchanged in federal aid.

The state's $2 billion bid for reimbursement has had trouble getting traction in Washington.

Three weeks ago, Texas was excluded from a White House emergency request for hurricane funds, a rebuff that Ms. Hutchison blamed on a lackadaisical state response to requests for documentation of its needs.

This week, Texas officials were told that they are unlikely to receive federal funds for 70,000 homes and businesses in southeast Texas devastated by Rita because high winds, rather than floods, caused the damage.

Housing Secretary Alphonso Jackson, a Texan, added another blow to the state's bid Wednesday, testifying that Texas cities have been reimbursed by FEMA "very well" for millions they advanced for housing for Katrina evacuees.

"Have we reimbursed them completely? No. But to say that they have not been reimbursed is not true," Mr. Jackson said.

Dallas officials say the city has received about $3.4 million of $6.8 million submitted to FEMA for reimbursement. City officials say they have no indication that the funds will not be reimbursed.

Mayor Bill White of Houston said FEMA has been conscientious about reimbursements for housing and police costs related to nearly 200,000 evacuees in the Houston area, but the payments have slowed in recent weeks. A recently signed contract with the agency should help rectify the problem, he said. But when those funds end, he said, the community grant funding requested by Texas should be provided to bridge the gap.


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