Hill Aid Is Both Official, Personal

Posted September 6, 2005 at 6:53pm

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Congressional Members, spouses, aides and Capitol Hill residents have rushed to offer aid, both big and small, to the storm’s victims.

In the bigger picture, the Congressional Black Caucus announced that it will seek the creation of a relief fund modeled after a fund created for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The CBC proposal would be offered as part of a broader legislative package.

“The caucus is going to be a leader in trying to do a number of different things: unemployment compensation, Medicare/Medicaid,” said a senior adviser to the CBC. “Part of that is victims’ compensation.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) voiced support for such a program Tuesday, stating: “I am hoping that the Congressional Black Caucus and other Members will create some type of relief similar to what was done for the 9/11 victims.

“We have to do something like that,” he added in reference to the fund that paid out approximately $7 billion to victims.

The senior CBC adviser praised private-sector efforts in the continuing repair and cleanup process of the hurricane that has displaced more than 1.5 million residents of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, but he asserted that more needs to be done.

“Our members are going to be very straightforward in saying, ‘Look, we cannot let these people fall through the cracks — they’re already falling through the cracks in our society,’” the aide said. “The people affected in the area have got to be helped by our government in ways similar to the disaster of 9/11. These are people who have lost everything.”

On a smaller scale, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) recently volunteered to help deliver needed supplies including water, diapers, paper goods and clothing from his own district to the nearby district of Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.).

“He organized local efforts and sent three truckloads of supplies to Mississippi’s 3rd district,” said spokesman Brad Buck. (For other examples of aid sponsored by Washington lobbyists and Members, see story, p. 11.)

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) opted to donate funds to the hurricane relief efforts, offering up $10,000 in campaign funds to be divided between the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The lawmaker and his wife, Linda, also made a $250 donation from their own funds, a spokeswoman said.

Similarly, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) has also donated funds to the Red Cross, as well as to his churches in both Michigan and the District.

In addition, Dingell worked with General Motors Corp., which employs his wife, Debbie, to provide 10 satellite phones to emergency workers to help with communications needs in the affected states.

Debbie Dingell, who has volunteered to work, though she is not currently doing so, in Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) office, said in an interview Tuesday that “there is this overwhelming desire to help on the part of everyone, but now part of the challenge is figuring out how to channel this help into a viable infrastructure.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and his wife, Mary Ellen, have likewise donated to a charitable organization, the Chicago-based America’s Second Harvest Food Bank.

“As Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, the Congressman wanted to give to a food bank to make sure everyone had food available to them,” explained spokeswoman Kathryn Rexrode.

House and Senate lawmakers in the affected areas are also recommending that citizens donate to special state-specific funds created to accept hurricane relief donations.

Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is advising constituents who visit his Web site to give funds to the “Mississippi Hurricane Fund,” a 501(c)(3) established by Gov. Haley Barbour (R). Donations may be mailed too “Mississippi Hurricane Fund,” P.O. Box 3562, Jackson, Miss., 39207.

Similarly, Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who represents many of the New Orleans neighborhoods hit hardest by flooding, is directing residents to donate to the recently established “Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation,” 1201 North Third Street, Suite 7-240, P.O. Box 94095, Baton Rouge, La., 70804-9095.

Numerous lawmakers also cited their involvement in tonight’s joint fundraising reception for hurricane victims at the Jones Day Building.

The event, co-hosted by the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida state societies, is intended to raise $50,000 for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Admission prices range from the $2,000 “sponsor” level, to $1,000 “co-sponsor” level to $20 “friends.” The event begins at 6 p.m. at 311 First St. NW.

However, not every Member is eager to draw attention to their efforts in the recovery.

A spokesman for Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said: “Rather than joining the crowd of politicians down there patting each other on the back, she would rather shake things up here in D.C.” Spokesman Eric Burns declined to reveal whether the New York lawmaker had donated to the hurricane efforts, asserting that would go against the idea of charitable donations.

And while many lawmakers are encouraging their constituents to donate to such organizations as the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross — which had received $409.2 million as of Monday — at least one group of Hill aides is hoping to assist a more specific group affected by the hurricane.

The Congressional Legislative Staff Association, in cooperation with the House and Senate military liaison offices, will host a clothing drive Sept. 15-16 to benefit veterans displaced from the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, Miss., which was severely damaged by the recent storm.

More than 350 veterans who lived in that facility have since been relocated to the D.C. Armed Forces Retirement Home.

Congressional Legislative Staff Association President Charles Elliott, a military legislative assistant to Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), said the group decided to focus on the veterans, noting, “What more deserving group of people than these heroes that have served their country?”

Boxes for the clothing drive will be put out Sept. 15 and will remain available until noon the following day. The CLSA is requesting that staffers bring sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, coats and other warm clothing in good, clean condition.

A list of suggested donations can be found at www.afrh.gov/files/pdf/afrhdonations.pdf. For more information, contact Elliott at charles.elliott@mail.house.gov.

Similarly, the Library of Congress Professional Guild is hosting a drive to collect personal hygiene products, infants’ and children’s items, clothing and suitcases for the Community Services Agency, the charitable branch of the AFL-CIO Washington D.C. Metro Council.

According to information provided by Library Guild officials, the CSA will also accept cash donations, and is seeking volunteers to pick-up and deliver items. More information is available online at www.dclabor.org.

Capitol Hill neighborhood denizens are also contributing to relief efforts, participating in a city-organized program to collect provisions and donations for evacuees who will be housed in the D.C. National Guard Armory.

According to a memorandum issued Tuesday by the office of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), officials are seeking bulk donations of items for the shelter rather than individual donations of clothing or food items.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A Chairman Joseph Fengler, whose district includes the Hill neighborhood, said that he and other commissioners are working to disseminate information about the city initiative.

“A lot of people, myself included, have already participated in giving to” the Metropolitan Police Department, Fengler said. The law-enforcement agency had assisted with the collection efforts during the Labor Day weekend.

Additionally, the District is also registering volunteers for the shelter, which is to be managed by the American Red Cross, as well as those residents who are interested in providing private shelter for evacuees. More information is available at the Citywide Call Center at (202) 727-1000.

Officials at the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District were likewise working in support of the city’s program, said Executive Director Patty Brosmer.

She added: “I think everybody wants to do something, and it looks like the best thing is to give to the Red Cross or volunteer some time if you can.”

Scott Hechinger and Erin P. Billings contributed to this report.