EMERGENCY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT FOR DEFENSE, THE GLOBAL WAR ON TERROR, AND HURRICANE RECOVERY, 2006 -- (House of Representatives - March 15, 2006)
Mr. HOYER. Mr. Chairman, I rise, and I will be very brief, in support of the gentlewoman, the ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over elections, who I understand will be offering an amendment which I offered in committee dealing with the challenges to the five-state region struck by Katrina and by Rita as it relates to the administration of elections.
As we know, New Orleans has an election coming up within the next 30 days. Other jurisdictions have elections. I tried to offer $5 million in the committee through the EAC. I want to say that the gentlewoman, I appreciate her leadership on this issue. I support her amendment. I hope it is made in order. I hope it is not objected to. And I hope that we can see it adopted.
I want to tell the gentlewoman as well that Mr. Knollenberg and I have been discussing this, because FEMA has said that they cannot spend, under the Stafford Act, certain expenditures which are required to administer the elections, particularly in New Orleans, because that is upon us, but in other jurisdictions as well. They did pay for the loss of machines. They did pay for the loss of ballot boxes and other paraphernalia necessary, but they have said under the Stafford Act they cannot pay for the election expenses in either Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana. The gentlewoman's amendment speaks to that and I would certainly be in support of it.
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Mr. Chairman, I plan to vote for the emergency supplemental appropriations bill that we are considering today.
H.R. 4939 will pay for supplies and materiel that our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan desperately need to carry out their mission.
The supplemental will also provide much needed resources to Gulf-Area States that were ravaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
However, this bill is not perfect.
I am disappointed that the appropriations committee did not address a problem that has come to light in recent weeks with respect to voting in States that suffered the brunt of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
On August 29, 2005, residents in Gulf Coast States endured one of the most devastating natural disasters in our nation's history. Tens of thousands of voters were displaced.
One month later, hurricane Rita caused additional widespread damage to voting infrastructure in Gulf-Area States.
An extraordinary amount of the Gulf region's election infrastructure--voting machines, polling places, and voting materials--were destroyed or severely damaged by the destruction wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
In Louisiana alone, over 250 polling places in the State's coastal parishes were destroyed.
To make matters worse, tens of thousands of people were forced to temporarily resettle in cities and towns throughout the United States while their communities are rebuilt.
Many if not most of these displaced people have every intention of returning to their communities as soon as conditions allow.
In the meantime, they are determined to maintain as many ties to their communities as they can.
Understandably, they would like to participate in elections that will be held this year in their communities.
Unfortunately, FEMA has proven ineffective at delivering assistance to election officials in hurricane-stricken States who are busy mounting what may be the most extensive and expensive voter outreach, education, and absentee voting program in the Nation's history.
According to FEMA's narrow reading of the "Robert T. Stafford Act," the agency is only empowered to make reimbursements to States to replace destroyed voting machines, but not for outreach to displaced voters.
In other words, FEMA can pay to replace damaged or destroyed voting machines, but it cannot pay to help States plan and execute the voter outreach and voter absentee programs that will be crucial to maintaining electoral continuity in 2006.
As a consequence, of the roughly $3.8 million in claims that the State of Louisiana has so far submitted for reimbursement, for example, only $1.2 million have been approved by FEMA.
During markup of this bill last week, I offered an amendment that would have provided funds to the election assistance commission to help States pay for the entire range of activities that are crucial to running fair, accurate, and secure elections in 2006.
I regret that my amendment was not accepted, and I regret that the bill before us today does not include a provision specifying that under the Stafford Act FEMA is authorized to reimburse States for a wider range of election activities than the agency insists.
Let me be clear: I do not blame this omission on partisanship because there is nothing partisan about the issue.
Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters in the Gulf States all endured last year's trauma.
However, I am very pleased that Chairman Knollenberg recognizes the significance of this issue and has agreed to work to address it in conference.
In the days ahead, I look forward to working with Chairman Knollenberg and his staff to ensure FEMA has the necessary authorities to reimburse the hurricane-stricken States for a much wider range of essential election activities than FEMA claims it has under current law.