SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 19, 2008)
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Mr. SCALISE. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 2642 and strongly encourage my colleagues to vote in favor of this legislation.
I am pleased that the Democratic leadership has chosen to not delay this bill any longer by hijacking it with tax increases. Our troops in the field will now have the resources they need to be successful in the war on terror.
In addition to providing our troops with critical and timely funding, this bill also includes funding for the communities in southeast Louisiana that were devastated by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.
On August 29, 2005, the failure of the federal levees resulted in over 1,400 deaths in my home State. Hundreds of thousands of Louisianians lost their homes. Over 80,000 small businesses were severely impacted. Of the 18 hospitals that served the area before Hurricane Katrina, only 10 have re-opened and continue to struggle financially. An estimated 217 square miles of coastal marshland were transformed to open water, expediting the erosion of Louisiana's coastal buffers that reduce the intensity of hurricanes before they strike our towns and cities.
While much progress has been made, our State is still struggling to recover from the Nation's worst natural disaster.
The legislation before us today not only helps to protect our troops in the field, it also takes us one step closer to protecting the citizens of south Louisiana from future flooding. This bill contains essential funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to make progress in completion of 100-year flood protection in South Louisiana. The bill also includes essential language directing the Corps of Engineers to provide an official cost estimate on the ``Pump to the River'' project, which will direct flood waters to the Mississippi River rather than Lake Ponchartrain, providing an important alternative method of flood prevention for thousands of citizens.
While I support the vital flood protection funding provided for in this bill, I am disappointed that the House leadership stripped critical funding that was included in the Senate version to allow local governments a longer payback period for their local cost share on levees. It is also very unfortunate that funding was stripped out for the hospitals in our area that are struggling financially to care for the uninsured citizens of southeast Louisiana, many of whom went to the State's Charity Hospital and the Federal Veteran's Administration Hospital that were closed down due to damage from Hurricane Katrina.
The Senate added a 30-year payback provision on the local cost-share for the Federal levees. This 30-year payback provision is critical to the recovery of south Louisiana. The levees that failed our city and our region were Federal levees. If our local governments are required to pay the 35 percent cost-share up front, it will likely prevent them from being able to move these critical flood protection projects forward. In addition, our State will likely be prevented from initiating any new coastal restoration efforts which would prevent hurricane protection efforts outside the greater New Orleans area.
Similarly, if the hospitals in our area are not provided immediate assistance, the stability of our entire health care infrastructure could be jeopardized. These hospitals are currently caring for patients that before Hurricane Katrina were receiving care at the government-funded, State-run Charity Hospital and the Federal VA Hospital. Our local hospitals are incurring hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and continue to provide 90 percent of health care services in the region. Without immediate assistance, the sustainability of the entire health care system and a major economic engine of the New Orleans region will be made extremely vulnerable, which could hinder our recovery.
Critical law enforcement funding to combat the post-Katrina crime wave was also cut in the House version of the bill. These funds would have provided personnel, equipment and technology to apprehend perpetrators of violent crimes. The safety of the citizens is crucial to our rebuilding efforts.
I implore my colleagues to continue to support my efforts and the efforts of the entire Louisiana delegation as we work to restore these other important provisions that are not yet in the legislation. I encourage support for this important bill.
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