WASHINGTON – An aid package to help the Gulf Coast rebuild after Hurricane Katrina will be siphoned from a dwindling FEMA disaster fund, leaving agency officials wondering Thursday whether they will need more money to help storm evacuees beyond next spring.
All but $5 billion of the $29 billion aid package, which won final congressional approval Thursday, will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund. The fund had a $34.7 billion balance last week, meaning FEMA will have about $11 billion left to help move thousands of evacuated families from hotels into homes and for other assistance.
"I think we're going to have enough," FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison told reporters. "We're watching it very closely."
FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews later said President Bush probably will seek more money from Congress early next year to replenish the relief fund, which is chiefly for immediate aid for disaster victims and state and local governments.
The reconstruction aid was part of a defense spending bill that the House sent to Bush for his signature by voice vote.
The government is still buying trailers and mobile homes, and paying apartment rent bills, for as many as 85,000 families left homeless after the Aug. 29 storm. FEMA has agreed to pay rent for up to 18 months for families that qualify.
Paulison said he did not know how much FEMA expected to spend on housing for evacuees, which he called the agency's "No. 1 priority." He said FEMA so far has spent $5.3 billion in direct aid to victims.
He estimated that 38,000 families remain in hotel rooms nationwide — down from a peak of 85,000. They are to be moved into apartments, trailers and mobile homes over the next two months. Additionally, Paulison said, 300 evacuees remain in emergency shelters, down from 270,000.
FEMA is buying and delivering up to 5,000 mobile homes and travel trailers to storm evacuees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama each week, he said.
The funding package completed Thursday represents a down payment of billions of dollars annually that Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., an author of the measure, said Congress likely will have to supply in future years to help the region recover.
The $29 billion aid package is the result of two weeks of negotiating among lawmakers to nearly double Bush's initial funding request.
—$11.5 billion in Community Development Block Grants to spur economic development and help homeowners without flood insurance rebuild or repair their homes.
—$4.4 billion for storm-related Defense Department expenses and facility damage.
—$2.9 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to continue storm and flood repairs, begin reconstructing levees and accelerate studies on improving Gulf Coast flood protection.
—$2.8 billion to repair damaged roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.
—$1.6 billion for education, including $645 million for schools that took in students, $750 million for schools affected by the hurricanes and $200 million for higher education.
—$400 million for farmers and forests in Katrina disaster areas.