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Senate Passes $29 Billion Katrina Relief Package
Bill joins tax incentives, 100 percent medicaid reimbursement in Senate year-end wrap

From Office of Sen. Trent Lott    12/22/05 GCN

A $29 billion supplemental budget package containing funds for multiple  hurricane recovery initiatives, including about $5 billion to aid uninsured homeowners outside the federally-designated flood plain whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina’s massive storm surge, passed the U.S. Senate late Wednesday.

“Without question this is a huge win for Mississippi and for thousands of individual victims of Hurricane Katrina, particularly those storm victims who now are stuck with a mortgage and a slab –

Mississippians who were told by lenders and insurers that they were outside the flood plain and needed no flood insurance,” Senator Lott said.  “This legislation means that qualifying homeowners outside the flood plain can apply for up to $150,000 to offset their losses.”

These grants will be administered by state and local governments through the existing Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.

Prior to the vote, Senator Lott took to the Senate floor to plead with his Senate colleagues to pass the bill and not block hurricane relief over disagreements about other unrelated issues in the bill.

“People are living in tents in South Mississippi who don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives,” he said.  “They have a mortgage and a slab.  They’ve hit the wall at the moment of exhaustion, frustration and decision.  I can’t let this day go without pleading that we get it done now.”      The package also includes:  $740 million to repair Mississippi’s roads and bridges; $1.6 billion to rebuild schools in the disaster zone including $95 million for colleges and universities; $1.6 billion to ensure continuation of shipbuilding; $1.3 billion to repair and rebuild military installations and provide military family housing, including $950 million to repair Stennis Space Center; $1.l billion for agricultural programs, including funds for oyster reef refurbishment; $441 million for small business loans in the disaster counties; $65 million to repair the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport; $125 million for job training programs; $110 million for rural development programs including repairs to water and wastewater infrastructure, and $125 million for law enforcement recovery.

“This bill is just one component of our hurricane recovery effort in Congress,” Senator Lott said.  “On Wednesday I joined President Bush at the White House as he signed major tax incentive legislation which I authored in the Senate establishing the ‘Gulf Opportunity Zone.’  This special designation makes businesses in 40 Mississippi counties eligible for special tax breaks and incentives designed to encourage businesses to reinvest and rehire workers.  The bill also contains provisions allowing municipalities to restructure their debt, and provisions to ensure an adequate housing supply.  In the coming months, this package will become a catalyst for getting Mississippians back to work in good, steady jobs and into permanent homes.”

Senator Lott also noted the Senate’s passage of a $2.1 billion medicaid reimbursement bill primarily for Mississippi and Louisiana, the two states which bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina.  The amendment –  which was moved at Senator Lott’s insistence as part of the larger budget reconciliation legislation –   provides 100 percent federal reimbursements to both states for their medicaid expenses.  For Mississippi taxpayers, who pay more than 20 cents of each medicaid dollar, that amounts to a savings of about $700 million which the state can use for hurricane recovery, Senator Lott said.