On Friday, December 2nd, I recalled the promise President Bush made to help Mississippi recover from Hurricane Katrina when he stood at the Mobile, Alabama, airport, just days after the storm with me, Senator Thad Cochran, Representative Chip Pickering, Governor Haley Barbour and other elected representatives. “Out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic Gulf Coast, like it was before,” he said, adding that if there are problems and the recovery is not going exactly right, his administration would “make it go exactly right.”
Well, as all Mississippians know who are dealing with this disaster’s aftermath, the recovery is not going exactly right. Almost half the travel trailers required to house Katrina’s homeless and displaced have not been delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This week Mississippi experienced some of the coldest weather this year, with lows dipping into the 20s. I need not mention how that impacts people living in tents and carports.
Three months after Katrina, only about a quarter of the debris has been removed. And what’s more telling, unemployment in Harrison, Hancock and Jackson counties – areas with almost no unemployment before Katrina – now hovers around 25 percent, statistics not seen here since the Great Depression. Additionally, of the more than 7,000 small business loans applied for statewide since Katrina, only about 400 have been approved by the Small Business Administration (SBA). This is preventing small business from coming back and hiring.
Finally – and perhaps this is the biggest factor discouraging folks from returning and rebuilding – some in the insurance industry have done an absolutely abysmal job in responding to their South Mississippi policyholders. Thousands of Mississippians remain without claim checks, with no way to even begin rebuilding their homes and lives.
Mississippi’s Congressional delegation and governor have clearly articulated our state’s needs to the Bush Administration and the Congress. We’ve introduced legislation and proposals to deal with all these problems. Regardless of political party, we are singing from the same hymnal, telling Washington just how bad Hurricane Katrina was, is, and will be without sustained federal help. Yet, to date, we’ve seen procrastination in Washington.
I’m challenging my Congressional colleagues and the President to approve several key pieces of Katrina legislation before Christmas, including: a package of tax credits designed to help individuals recover and businesses rehire in the disaster area; a $17 billion Katrina supplemental funding measure that would include about $13 billion to help people who were outside the flood zone and without flood insurance; a bill that will increase the amount of direct individual disaster assistance beyond the current $26,000 federal cap; and a measure that will compel FEMA to cover more of the cost of debris removal.
These remedies, of course, aren’t the only things needed to facilitate our recovery from Katrina. We still have to rebuild our highways, airports and local neighborhood infrastructures. But Congress, with President Bush’s leadership, should complete these initiatives, which will immediately impact individual lives, before the New Year.
As I said in my December 2nd remarks, Mississippians aren’t whiners. We’ve met Katrina’s formidable challenges with dignity and skill, and much of America outside the Washington beltway has taken notice. We’ve accepted that we’re going to have to work hard to return our neighborhoods and economy to what they once where. But at the same time, we deserve and expect the full commitment of the federal government to help all Mississippians get back on their feet and keep our recovery from Katrina on track. We need the president’s leadership to ensure that Congress and the federal government fulfill its commitment to Mississippi.
I hope all Americans will remember their neighbors in the Gulf region this holiday season as they have done since Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi. I urge Congress to pass the pending Katrina relief before Christmas so that President Bush can sign it immediately and give weary Mississippians hope that in the New Year, they will not be left behind. (12/9/05)
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
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