Louisiana Could Be Victim of Funding Delay

Posted October 2, 2007 at 6:43pm

If House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) makes good on his Tuesday vow to put a supplemental war spending bill on ice until early 2008, state officials in Louisiana could find themselves scrambling for emergency funds to continue a housing recovery program.

According to officials with the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the body established to coordinate rebuilding efforts in the state following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the state’s largest housing recovery program could run out of money should Congress wait until January or later to approve the supplemental spending bill.

“That is potentially disruptive to our ability to continue giving grants at the rate of 10,000 [households] per month,” LRA Executive Director Andy Kopplin said.

“We calculate at the current rate of closings … we will be out of funds in early January,” he added.

Louisiana officials estimate The Road Home program will need $3 billion to $4 billion in new funding, in addition to its initial $7.5 billion federal budget as well as a state infusion of $1 billion.

Kopplin said the funding gap is the result of a discrepancy in Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates in the number of homeowners who would qualify for the program — approximately 160,000 households are expected to take part in the program, more than 40,000 above original estimates — as well as greater-than-expected damage to those homes.

Despite the potential delay in the supplemental spending bill, however, Democratic aides said Tuesday that House leaders could still find an avenue to fund the Louisiana program before its funds reach a critical state.

An Appropriations Committee spokeswoman said she could not discuss the details of the emergency funding, stating that the House had yet to received a request from the administration, but she said other avenues remained available for the program.

“Funds could move independently from the Iraq supplemental,” the aide added.

House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), who also chairs the House Democratic Task Force on Hurricane Katrina, visited the Gulf Coast region in August, vowing at that time to provide the additional funds to the Louisiana program.

“I’m concerned about getting money for the Gulf Coast,” Clyburn said Tuesday.

Clyburn spokeswoman Kristie Greco said Democratic leaders see the “best opportunity” to include the funds in a single emergency spending bill.

“The question is when that legislation will be taken up and how it will impact the date of the projected shortfall,” Greco said, noting that leadership has not finalized any decisions on when the supplemental will be moved.

“We made a commitment … in August to help make up the shortfall in the program,” she added. “We are committed to a partnership to the region, I think we’ve demonstrated a commitment by delivering on their previous commitments, and this is the same.”

In a statement, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she also remains focused on procuring the emergency funding through the supplemental spending bill.

“More than two years after the 2005 hurricanes, Louisianans are still plagued with an emergency situation. We need an Emergency Supplemental to move through Congress as soon as possible,” she said. “One of our most pressing needs is more funding for the Road Home program. … I will continue to urge my colleagues and the congressional leadership to focus their attention on moving this essential funding as soon as possible.”

In the meantime, Kopplin visited Capitol Hill last week to meet with the Louisiana delegation and leadership offices.

“The timing is obviously important, but knowing that the funds will be appropriated is the most important,” Kopplin said. “Having the kind of commitment we have from [the House] and from the Senate leadership is again the most important news to Louisiana homeowners who are applicants for funds.

“We’re used to being in this position where the timeline of the Iraq War supplemental determines the timeline for hurricane recovery investments from Congress. While we don’t particularly like that, that is the situation we’ve been in both in this Congress and the last Congress,” he added.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.