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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



S. 2343. A bill to authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita by placing manufactured homes in flood plains, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, this week marks the 6-month anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the gulf coast, destroying lives and dreams along the way. Thousands upon thousands of homes were also ruined, and today they remain simply a heap of debris.

I saw this devastation firsthand a few weeks ago when, as a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, we traveled to Gulfport and New Orleans for field hearings to see what resources are necessary to help the region recover from the largest natural disaster in our history.

In fact, this photograph was taken by one of the press people who was on that trip. So we saw this scene firsthand. Alison Vekshin of Stephens Media took this photo.

I remind my colleagues that Hurricane Katrina completely destroyed 205,330 homes in Louisiana. It completely destroyed 68,729 homes in Mississippi. And 363 homes were completely destroyed in Alabama. For many of these families who lost everything, a place to live would offer opportunity for them to go back to work and begin rebuilding their lives.

I was told by local and State leaders that housing is the catalyst to get businesses open, to get people back to work, to pump money back into the local economy, and to restore the infrastructure that once existed.

Many people along the gulf coast who lost their houses have also lost hope. In Arkansas, we have a place called Hope where 10,777 manufactured homes sit on an airfield.

These homes--ordered by FEMA and paid for by FEMA--now sit in a FEMA-leased site, only to be restricted from use in the gulf region because of a FEMA-imposed rule that prevents them from being located in a floodplain.

FEMA is now accepting bids to gravel the area where the homes are sitting on dirt, costing taxpayers another $4 to $7 million. In addition, FEMA is buying a specially designed jack for each corner of each home to prevent sagging and further damage.

These manufactured homes epitomize FEMA's ineptitude in planning, communication, and response. Taxpayers have now spent an estimated $475 million for these homes to sit gridlocked in bureaucracy, even as evacuees are evicted from hotel rooms and thousands of others struggle to find affordable housing.

Congressman MIKE ROSS of Arkansas asked FEMA to waive the floodplain restriction that stands in the way between the homeless and a home. But FEMA refused, citing that manufactured homes are ``sitting ducks'' for the next natural disaster. These homes, I have to remind my colleagues, were built to high wind zone 3 specifications, so while they may not withstand the next hurricane--although they may--they will not tumble over during a storm.

Now, we are telling FEMA to let hope travel to where it is needed most, from Arkansas to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama.

My legislation, the Hope Housing Act of 2006, allows manufactured homes bought for Katrina and Rita victims to be located in floodplains, protects FEMA from responsibility if the homes are subsequently flooded, and directs FEMA to publicize this change so people will know they are available.

This is a one-time change that I believe is necessary in the face of what I hope will be a one-time disaster. We have people without homes and homes without people. Let's allow the homes to go where they are needed so the people in New Orleans and the gulf coast can return to their communities and help rebuild them. The alternative seems to be to let them sit and deteriorate in Hope, Arkansas.

Mr. President, 6 months is too long to allow this nonsense to continue. I urge my colleagues to support this commonsense solution that allows hurricane victims a little hope and opportunity for their future.

The bottom line is that basically FEMA ordered these homes, paid for these homes, and now they are storing these homes, but their own regulation will not allow them to use them where they are most needed. So what our legislation does is allow FEMA to put these homes down where they are needed to try to get the economic cycle in New Orleans and the gulf coast area going again because right now the cycle is broken. They do not have people down there to work the jobs. They do not have people down there to be consumers. And the reason they do not have people is because they do not have a place to live.

So I urge my colleagues to consider helping in this effort. The Hope Housing Act of 2006 is a very commonsense solution for this very critical need.

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