Louisiana Approves $7.5 Billion in Hurricane Katrina Housing Aid

State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to Gov. Kathleen Blanco's $7.5 billion aid program for people whose homes were heavily damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, though checks can't go out until Washington officials weigh in.

Blanco needs approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the program, and the plans depend on $4.2 billion in federal aid pending in Congress.

The housing program would spend federal recovery dollars on repairs, rebuilding and buyouts for homeowners. Homeowners aren't expected to see any grants until at least late summer.

The grants would be based on the pre-storm value of the homes, up to $150,000 per owner-occupied home. Homeowners must have uninsured damage of more than $5,200 from hurricanes Katrina or Rita to be eligible. An estimated 123,000 people were expected to be eligible.

Only one home can be covered. People who want to cover other homes would have to apply through another plan state lawmakers approved Wednesday, a $1.5 billion program for rehabilitating rental housing.

Those who were in a flood plain and didn't have flood insurance would have a 30 percent penalty taken off what they could receive. Homeowners who don't want to rebuild in Louisiana would get buyouts up to 60 percent of their home's pre-storm value. And the insurance proceeds a homeowner received would be deducted from the amount of aid they could receive.

The $4.2 billion in federal money is in a spending bill pending in a congressional conference committee. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill because of congressional add-ons.

Blanco's plan calls for the maximum amount of assistance per homeowner to be halved if the program is only partially funded.