Senator Biden and Senate Leadership Offer Immediate Help to Hurricane Katrina Victims
Earlier today, U.S. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) joined Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other senior Democrats in offering comprehensive legislation to provide immediate relief to victims of Hurricane Katrina. The Katrina Emergency Relief Plan will help ensure that victims of Katrina have access to emergency health care, housing and other essential services.
"While many legitimate questions remain about our response to Hurricane Katrina, we need to focus right now on what we can do to offer immediate assistance to the survivors. Americans are suffering and we have an obligation to ease that suffering in any way we can," said Biden. "While this is certainly not the sum total of what Congress can and should do - these are common-sense, basic steps that we can take right now that will give thousands of struggling people some sense of relief."
"The task ahead remains daunting, but Americans are willing to share whatever sacrifice is necessary to do what needs to be done to restore New Orleans and Gulf Coast to its former glory. Americans are, by nature, united by our shared values. We see ourselves as fair and compassionate, as a nation willing to help those who are struggling," said Biden. "The work has just begun, but our will is great and our faith in what we can accomplish together is endless."
The bill includes the following provisions to address four major areas of concern: housing; health care; education and economic recovery.
HOUSE THE HOMELESS: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated that up to one million people may be left homeless by the Katrina disaster and require housing assistance. Many will lack the standard paperwork to apply for government assistance and will face steep costs as affordable housing is already limited for many. FEMA is not equipped to handle the unique housing needs of survivors who have scattered around the country and who will have longer temporary housing needs than victims of many other disasters. This bill would:
* Provide Emergency Housing Vouchers for Evacuees;
* Expedite Application Procedures so Evacuees can Find Housing;
* Provide Time for Survivors to Find Work Before Tenant Contributions are Required;
* Identify Federal Facilities to House Victims
PROVIDE MEDICAL COVERAGE: The survivors of Hurricane Katrina need health coverage for their medical care just at the time when their state governments are facing a serious lack of resources. Some of Katrina's survivors were already uninsured and many of those who had health insurance have lost it and have been relocated. Ths bill will:
* Provide Katrina Survivors with Health Coverage Through Medicaid Wherever They Are Now;
* Ease Enrollment in States' Medicaid Programs and Provide Services to All Survivors;
* Ensure a Smooth Transition to the Medicare Drug Benefit for Survivors;
* Guarantee Full Federal Funding for Medicaid for Survivors in New States of Residence;
* Provide Full Federal Funding for Medicaid Programs in Directly-Affected States
KEEP KIDS IN THE CLASSROOM: The Katrina disaster has coincided with the beginning of the school year, taking hundreds of thousands of school children out of the classroom. No student should miss half of a school year or perhaps even more. This bill would take immediate action to help these students get back to class and assist the school districts receiving students absorb the new students. The bill would:
* Award $2,500 Grants Per Student and Other Assistance to School Districts Receiving Displaced Students;
* Provide Temporary Assistance to Early Childhood Education Programs and Agencies Receiving Displaced Children
HELP AMERICANS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET: Not only have hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their homes, they have also lost their jobs and their livelihoods. It will take time for Americans to get back on their feet. The Senate bill would take the following actions to ease the burden on the victims and assist them in their recovery:
* Give the Victims a Moratorium of 180 Days on Any Loan Payments or Other Obligations to the Federal Government;
* Waive Any Limitations on Total Assistance to Individuals;
* Provide Mortgage and Rental Relief to Protect Americans from Losing Their Homes or Being Evicted;
* Extend and Expand Unemployment Insurance for Victims
In addition to Senator Biden, the bill currently has more than a dozen cosponsors.