MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - May 22, 2008)
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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise in strong support of that portion of the emergency funding bill we will be voting on in about 35 minutes. The reason I do so is because it is absolutely essential to deliver the help the President has committed--that the Nation has committed--to our continuing recovery in Louisiana.
First, let me begin by thanking all my colleagues and, perhaps even more importantly, the American people, the American taxpayer, for an unprecedented outpouring of support for our recovery. True, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a devastating one-two punch, were unprecedented disasters, the biggest natural disasters--particularly when put together--that the country has ever faced. Still, it is very significant, very important to acknowledge that the American people have also stepped to the plate and made an unprecedented response. The people of Louisiana are deeply grateful.
The provisions in this bill are an essential part of that commitment and that response. Very soon after Hurricane Katrina, I sat in Jackson Square, in the middle of the French Quarter, and heard the President deliver his live address to the Nation from Jackson Square, right in front of St. Louis Cathedral. It was a strange, eerie night because New Orleans had not yet recovered, in significant ways, from the storm. It was only a few weeks since Hurricane Katrina. The whole French Quarter was dark--no electricity. The only light, lighting a small portion of that part of the world, was from light trucks sent in so the President could speak from that historic point to the American people.
The President made a clear and a firm commitment to the full recovery of our region. I thanked him for that. I thank him for that today.
A big part of that commitment, of course, was strong, meaningful hurricane and flood protection for southeast Louisiana, building at a minimum a 100-year level of protection and building it quickly enough to sustain a storm that you might expect to see only once every 100 years.
Again, I thank the President for that commitment. I thank the American people for that commitment. But this funding in this bill passed now is absolutely essential to keep that commitment.
The Corps of Engineers itself says, if they do not have this money by October 1, they will slip from their schedule and that rebuilding and that level of protection for southeast Louisiana will not be here in the promised timeframe for the hurricane season of 2011. We cannot allow that schedule to slip. We cannot allow that solemn commitment of the President not to be fulfilled in a real and a timely manner. That is why these funds in this emergency funding bill are so essential.
I know many of my friends who have fiscal concerns, as I do in general have concerns about this bill. I would simply say with regard to these funds for our recovery, the President has asked for 95 percent of these moneys. The President himself has asked that those moneys be emergency spending. So this is hardly some Christmas tree on which we are trying to put ornaments for needs that are not there, that the President has not requested. At least 95 percent of this recovery package is what the President himself has explicitly requested and even requested be made emergency funding.
Let's follow through on that solemn commitment of the President, of the Congress, of the American people, and let's be sure to do it in a timely way so this enormously important protection system is built in time for the hurricane season of 2011. This is very important to our recovery.
Besides levees and hurricane protection, it also addresses, in a small but important way, hospital needs, criminal justice needs, relocating businesses from the MRGO so that hurricane highway can finally be closed and we do not have a repeat of the devastation it helped cause in eastern New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. Again, this is our opportunity to do this this year in a timely way.
I respectfully again thank all of my colleagues for their support in our recovery and ask them to support this essential step in meeting the President's commitment, meeting these needs in a timely way.
I yield back any remaining time.
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Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about a very important provision to New Orleans in the supplemental and to thank the Senate Appropriations Committee members for their strong and continued support for Louisiana during the long and difficult posthurricane recovery process.
Included in the emergency supplemental bill before the Senate is $70 million for emergency funding for 3,000 rental subsidies, which will provide permanent supportive housing in Louisiana for its most at-risk residents. These are the individuals who normal housing assistance programs are most likely to fail or miss, or who are unable to take advantage of available assistance without extra support. They are the homeless, the elderly in need of additional outside care or supervision, and individuals with severe disabilities. For them, permanent supportive housing can mean the difference between being exposed to the streets or having a secure, stable home environment.
The permanent supportive housing funding is the final piece of a three-prong initiative in Louisiana to address the post-storm needs of its most at-risk population. Louisiana has already dedicated significant resources toward this project: Louisiana's Road Home recovery plan will provide the necessary supportive services funding for the first 5 years of the initiative and some capital funding and the State has already invested in 800 to 1,000 permanent supportive housing units through existing affordable housing programs. All that remains now before this initiative can become a successful reality is the rental subsidy funding, which would provide Louisiana with the 2,000 project-based voucher and 1,000 shelter plus care units that will finally bring the services and housing to the people that need it most.
However, without the $70 million in rental subsidy funding included in the supplemental, this important initiative will fail. This is an issue that transcends politics and party affiliation. It enjoys the bipartisan support of myself and Senator Landrieu, as well as the support of the Appropriations HUD subcommittee chair and ranking member, Senators MURRAY and BOND, and the committee leadership. The Louisiana House congressional delegation supports the funding and wrote the House appropriators to advocate for it. In fact, Louisiana's new Governor, Governor Jindal, signed that letter as a Congressman and has since written the House and Senate leadership last month urging its adoption.
As of the latest count last year, the homeless population in New Orleans had almost doubled to approximately 12,000 persons compared to the period prior to the storm. This is an opportunity to bring the most disadvantaged and at-need home. I urge Congress take this critical step of providing the necessary housing funding for this important Louisiana recovery initiative. And, I strongly urge my colleagues to support this funding in negotiations with the House of Representatives to ensure its inclusion in the final funding package.