WASHINGTON – Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who holds George W. Bush's former job, told Congress Tuesday the federal government has turned its back on the Lone Star State. He demanded an additional $2 billion to repair damage and other hurricane-related costs in Texas.
Perry criticized the federal response to the devastating storms, saying states slammed by Katrina are getting more generous help than his state, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Rita.
"Financial aid has been a fraction of what was promised," Perry told the Senate Appropriations Committee. Funding for housing, education and community development has been shortchanged, he said.
Perry's comments came as four Gulf Coast governors came to Washington to press for funding for relief and rebuilding. Total spending on the devastated region is heading toward the $100 billion mark, but considerably more will be needed, said Govs. Bob Riley, R-Ala., Kathleen Blanco, D-La., Haley Barbour, R-Miss., in addition to Perry.
The Bush request for hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast includes $4.2 billion in flexible community development block grants aimed at compensating Louisiana residents whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. Louisiana officials said their state was shortchanged when Congress approved $11.5 billion in such funds in December.
"We have been waiting for this funding since President Bush made his moving speech on Jackson Square in September," Blanco said. "Please do not make us wait any longer."
The Senate hearing came a day before its House counterpart was to vote on a whopping $91 billion emergency spending bill providing $19 billion in new aid to the region.
But the House measure, while providing the $4.2 billion in housing-related community development funds, declined to dedicate that money to Louisiana. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., has also indicated he's inclined against dedicating housing relief to just Louisiana.
Nor does the House bill satisfy the demands of Texas. House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said Perry's demands include about $300 million for a private utility company and funding to reimburse the state for the matching funds it provided to be eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency relief funds, which are costs not funded as part of hurricane relief bills, Scofield said.
Perry said Texas officials had been told just Monday "that we should not expect any additional help from Washington because the damage we sustained was caused mostly by wind, not water."
Generally speaking, private homeowners that sustained wind damage have been far more likely to receive settlements from insurance companies, while those whose homes were destroyed by a flood surge have had to turn to the federal government.
The powerful Texas delegation is lining up behind Perry's demands, while the more relatively junior Louisiana delegation has struggled at times to win funding equal to its relative share of damages sustained.
"I would ask you to avoid the temptation to chip away at our promised funding and divert it to the other states," Blanco said. "Congress has the ability to appropriate funding to them without undermining the president's promise to us."
Blanco also pressed for Bush's $1.5 billion request for levee repair and rebuilding. The House measure would grant the request.
Barbour said Mississippi plans to use $4 billion in already appropriated funds to rebuild destroyed homes and he said FEMA has provided almost $8 billion more for state and federal relief activity, though $6-8 billion more will ultimately be needed.
Barbour also asked lawmakers to rebuild the Port of Gulfport, which was destroyed by Katrina and to relocate a rail line inland from the coast. He did not provide cost estimates.
For his part, Riley said "Alabama has recovered" from Katrina. "There are still pockets of damage, and life is still a long way from normal in places like Bayou La Batre and on Dauphin Island, but there's no doubt the people of Alabama are working hard to recovery, rebuild and renew their communities."