Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has criticized President George Bush and his administration’s proposals for Hurricane Katrina-related aid, saying it falls short of what Mississippi has requested from the federal government.
Barbour said Bush’s proposal, released Friday, neglects a key component of his plan: a program to help those whose homes were damaged by flooding, but who lived outside federally designated flood zones.
“The federal government sets and establishes the flood zones, and the federal government and the insurance agents consistently told these people they didn’t need flood insurance,” Barbour told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “The federal government has a duty to make these people whole.”
Barbour said he asked officials for about $24 billion for a variety of programs for the next two years, and for $33 billion overall for the next 10 years.
Of that, about $4 billion would go to the program to help up to 50,000 uninsured flood victims. He said the money would come from funds Congress already has appropriated, but requires a change in federal disaster laws.
Bush’s proposal would bring about $18 billion to Mississippi, Barbour said.
Barbour said resistance from the Bush administration and others on Capitol Hill centers on not wanting to set a precedent for future disasters.
“The federal government has never gone as far as we’re asking them to,” Barbour said.
Barbour said changing the disaster laws has never happened, but some members of both parties have been receptive to his plan.
“There’s never been such a large percentage of damage done to an area outside the flood zone,” Barbour said. “Many members recognize that an unprecedented event happened that may require changing precedent.”
U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran told the Clarion-Ledger he supports the governor’s plan and will work to get everything the state has requested.
He said his office is working with Sen. Susan Collins, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, to draft legislation that will allow Mississippi to spend the money to help homeowners.
He could not give a timeline for when the bill would be done.
“Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later,” Cochran said.
Other members of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation are working on legislation that will expand the federal government’s share of recovery.
Sen. Trent Lott and 4th District Rep. Gene Taylor have each offered in their chamber legislation that would allow uninsured flood victims to retroactively buy into the national flood insurance program.
Lott said he prefers a “shotgun approach” to the insurance problem.
“This is just one of the several paths I’m pursuing to relieve those who have suffered damage and who are getting little or no support from their insurance company,” Lott said.
Lee Youngblood, a spokesman for Lott, said Barbour’s proposal is another avenue that Lott supports.
Second District Rep. Bennie Thompson said he supports any effort to help homeowners, but thinks the insurance industry gets off too lightly in either of the flood insurance buy-in plans or in Barbour’s plan.
Instead, he would like to see more support for Attorney General Jim Hood’s lawsuit against leading insurance companies.
“Those individuals who have paid premiums all of their lives, the insurance industry should be obligated to making those people whole,” Thompson said.
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