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Hurricane Rita shares spotlight with Katrina

By Staff
Just when the Gulf Coast region thought the worst was over after Hurricane Katrina, another mammoth storm, Hurricane Rita, targeted the Texas/Louisiana border with even more damage and destruction almost a certainty.
Rita, which prior to landfall bounced back and forth between a Category 3, 4, and 5 storm, comes on the heels of the largest natural disaster in our nation's history.
If anything good were to come out of Hurricane Katrina, it is the fact that people in both Texas and Louisiana apparently didn't have to have their arms twisted this time in terms of getting out of the way of the storm.
As news reports indicated all last week, unprecedented steps were being taken to prepare in advance of Hurricane Rita. The state of Texas, for example, was the site of one of the largest evacuations of people in United States history.
Many citizens heeded their local and state official's advice to board-up and vacate their homes for safer ground. In fact, I was heartened to hear Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas tell NBC's Today Show host Katie Couric last Thursday that she didn't need the president or anyone else at the federal level to tell her people they needed to get out of the way of the storm.
Without question, no one is old enough to remember seeing two storms of roughly the same size make landfall in the same year, much less in the span of a month. Unlike in parts of New Orleans with Katrina, it will be crucial in the hours and days immediately after the storm for calm, law and order to be maintained.
President Bush, for his part, has promised that lessons learned at the federal level post Hurricane Katrina will already bear fruit in the aftermath of Rita. As both taxpayers and concerned citizens for our fellow countrymen, we must all hope and trust he is right.
From a congressional standpoint, we must also ensure that the appropriate funding is allocated to those people and organizations truly in need of assistance.
However, it is imperative that we ensure to every extent humanly possible that taxpayer funds are not subjected to rampant examples of waste, fraud and abuse. Already there have been too many cases reported of people who are taking advantage of the system. And even if those examples are the clear exception, this abuse, nevertheless, leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many of us who want to do our part to help our friends and neighbors who are truly in need.
Questions abound
Even as Congress has already appropriated some $62 billion in disaster relief, many questions have been raised about how this money is being spent.
These are fair questions at a time when some estimates for the overall price tag from Katrina have soared in the neighborhood of $150 – $200 billion dollars.
Fortunately, all of the help coming from Congress isn't in the form of money. In our efforts to respond quickly to Katrina, here are some of the many ways Congress has worked to provided assistance:
H.R. 889 – Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2005. In addition to reauthorizing the Coast Guard for the upcoming fiscal year, this bill also provides an additional $60 million to reimburse the Coast Guard for the cost of rescuing approximately 6,500 people stranded by the storm.
H.R. 3768 – Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005. This bill provides fast-targeted tax relief, giving families and individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina more flexibility and resources. It also encourages cash donations to help victims and will provide incentives for housing assistance.
H.R. 3668 – Student Grant Hurricane Disaster Relief Act. This bill permits the Secretary of Education to provide a waiver for students required to repay grant aid (TRIO, GEAR UP, LEAP, SEOG) after they were forced to withdraw from classes due to a natural disaster as declared by the president.
H.R. 3736 – Katrina Volunteer Protection Act of 2005. This bill clarifies the rules for everyone volunteering to help those harmed by Hurricane Katrina. The measure makes clear that everyone who helps those who have suffered harm in the wake of Hurricane Katrina will be covered by some basic legal protections.
This is especially important for volunteers who act in good faith to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina without compensation, so that they do not have to worry about lawsuits unless they acted in a willful, wanton, reckless or criminal manner.
My staff and I work for the people of South Alabama. Please call if we can be of service.
Jo Bonner represents the people of this area in the U.S. H ouse of Representatives.