Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Feingold to Propose Housing-Assistance Bill for Katrina Survivors

A lot of somber things will be said by politicians today as we observe the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's horrible strike on Louisiana and Mississippi -- heck, George W. Bush will even be in New Orleans to feign concern -- but I'm hoping that residents of the devastated area and all Americans are watching closely to see who's actually doing something beyond today to help Katrina's victims.

While Bush will be back in New Orleans to try to wash away his administration's pathetic and incompetent response to the hurricane itself and the 365 days of inaction that have followed, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) is going to mark the return of the Senate (from August recess) next week, by proposing legislation to address some of the real housing issues still faced by survivors of Hurricane Katrina

Feingold will introduce the Gulf Coast Housing Accessibility Act, which will attempt to bring immediate and long-term assistance to those who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.

“Over the past year, in my listening sessions in Wisconsin, I have heard from many people upset with the federal government’s response to Katrina and their emotional pleas to not forget about the people who lost their homes, their communities and their way of life,” Feingold said. “We must do all we can to help survivors of Katrina return to the lives they once knew. That’s why I’m introducing this legislation to try to offer some level of immediate assistance to working families, seniors, people with disabilities and other survivors of the hurricanes who just want a place to call home.”

Feingold’s legislation contains the following key elements to help lower-income Katrina survivors get back on their feet by first securing a stable place to live:
  • Project-based housing vouchers -- $200 million -- to help make a percentage of the Gulf Coast’s reconstructed housing available to working-poor families, seniors, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable residents. These vouchers will help make new and rebuilt housing damaged by the 2005 hurricanes affordable to low income individuals and families wishing to move back to the Gulf Coast.
  • More Flexible Disaster Assistance. The Feingold bill would offer flexibility for FEMA to provide more secure and reliable housing to displaced residents of the 2005 hurricanes and future disaster survivors and offer protections to low-income renters.
  • Housing Assistance Reorganization. Feingold’s legislation would transfer funding for remaining temporary rental assistance programs from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Disaster Voucher Program. By moving these funds for transitional housing to HUD, the government will be able to provide displaced families still receiving housing assistance with better options to meet their long-term housing needs.
Feingold’s bill is supported by a wide array of advocacy groups including the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Louisiana Advocacy Coalition for the Homeless, Louisiana Permanent Supportive Housing Coalition and the Louisiana/Biloxi Branch of the NAACP.

It will be very interesting to see what level of GOP opposition arises to Feingold's legislation, given that it is designed to help low-income families -- the vast majority of which are Democratic voters -- move back home to Louisiana, a state that Republicans can turn permanently red if they can keep Democratic voters from returning to the state.

But they'll have strong opposition in the stalwart Feingold.

"On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we remember those who lost their lives, their homes, and their communities to the hurricane," said Feingold on Monday. "Katrina’s devastation was one of the most tragic episodes in our nation’s history and as the people of the Gulf Coast face the challenge of rebuilding, we must not let them face it alone."

"One year after Katrina, we must rededicate ourselves to helping the people of the Gulf Coast make it home again."