Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Wednesday, January 24

Barbour Defends State's Share of Federal Money for Katrina Recovery


Mississippi's Republican governor, Haley Barbour, dismisses criticism from the Democratic governor of Louisiana about the role partisanship might've played in getting federal relief to the neighboring states since Hurricane Katrina. Barbour told The Associated Press that Mississippi made more reasonable requests for federal aid and is further along in distributing federally funded recovery grants to homeowners.

"Sounds to me like Congress is getting their money's worth in Mississippi," Barbour said.
He said Mississippi has issued 9,902 homeowner recovery grants out of about 17,000 applications. A Web site for the "Road Home" grant program in Louisiana says 101,657 applications have been submitted and 258 grants had been completed by Monday. Mississippi's grant program is only for Katrina recovery, while Louisiana's is for Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Barbour did a brief interview with AP Tuesday, shortly before he spoke to a group of school superintendents in Jackson for a convention.

He said he put little credence in what Michael Brown, a former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said about party politics influencing federal decisions about the way Mississippi and Louisiana were treated after Katrina blew ashore on Aug. 29, 2005.
"His credibility has been worn pretty thin over the last couple of years _ at least that's what Congress said about him, Democrats in Congress said about him," Barbour said of Brown.
Brown, speaking at the Metropolitan College of New York last week, said he recommended to President Bush that all 90,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast affected by Katrina be federalized, but he said some White House officials didn't want to federalize Mississippi because it has a Republican governor.

"Unbeknownst to me, certain people in the White House were thinking, 'We had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic governor and we have a chance to rub her nose in it. We can't do it to Haley because Haley's a white male Republican governor. And we can't do a thing to him,'" Brown said in his speech. Brown wouldn't say who at the White House suggested the different treatment. The White House denied Brown's accusations.
In Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday, Gov. Kathleen Blanco held a news conference at the Governor's Mansion and said Republican leaders in Washington have slowed aid to Louisiana and discriminated against its residents while giving Mississippi more money proportionately than its damage from Katrina and Hurricane Rita.

"Michael Brown has broken the code of silence about the political conspiracy to hurt the people of Louisiana," Blanco said. "Their target was me, obviously, but the real victims are the people of Louisiana." Barbour and Blanco are both seeking re-election this year. Blanco said "the Washington Republicans have consistently punished and discriminated against our people, all for partisan political purposes. A state with 80 percent of the storm damage from two hurricanes barely received 50 percent of federal relief funds."

Barbour said Louisiana asked for too much federal aid after Katrina. "When Louisiana asked the federal government to give them $250 billion just for Louisiana, we in Mississippi realized that we had to take a responsible, conservative, reasonable plan to Congress," Barbour said. "Our plan requested less than $35 billion, of which we were already entitled to half under the pre-existing law. We gave Congress a responsible plan and they have largely funded it," he said. "We have received about $25 billion, and we hope to receive the balance over the next two years."

Mississippi's senior U.S. senator, Republican Thad Cochran, was chairman of the Appropriations Committee when Katrina hit. He held the chairmanship until Democrats took control this month. Barbour was a high-profile Washington lobbyist before winning the governorship in 2003, and served as Republican National Committee chairman in the mid-1990s. He also built GOP connections by working as a political director in the Reagan White House for two years in the 1980s.

Blanco wants Congress to create a bipartisan commission to review the immediate and long-term federal response to Katrina and the follow-up blow of Hurricane Rita in September 2005. Barbour said he'd have no problem with the creation of a such a commission.
"Louisiana has gotten twice as much money as we have," Barbour said. "People will tell you Louisiana has simply tried to imitate what we did. Their homeowner grant program is based on our homeowner grant program. When we asked for community development block grant money, they asked for community development block grant money.

"When Congress gave us $5 billion of community development block grant money, they turned around and gave Louisiana more than $10 billion of community development block grant money to implement in Louisiana the program we had developed in Mississippi."


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