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Letter to Robert Byrd and Thad Cochran, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Re: Federal Disaster Relief Package

Harkin, Grassley lead call for federal disaster relief package
Senators urge increased funding for disaster in wake of Iowa's historic floods

Iowa Senators Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley are leading a bipartisan effort to secure more funding for states hit by natural disasters this year. In a letter sent last night, a bipartisan group of 23 senators urged the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to expand the federal disaster relief package that includes funding for rebuilding and recovery from the considerable damage inflicted by this year's disasters.

The letter asks for a $12 billion funding level for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for all of the major disasters. The CDBG program is a flexible account that can be used for home buyouts, repair of homes, new housing construction, forgivable loans for businesses, repair of government facilities not covered by FEMA and flood mitigation.

The letter also asks for a measure to be included in the funding package that would allocate no less than 50 percent of the CDBG funds within 45 days of enactment, based on the best damage estimates available from each state. The senators included the measure to have the funding put to use as quickly as possible. The Senators have voiced concerns with delays in getting dollars to affected Iowa communities.

"Families and businesses are still reeling from the floods that hit our state. From the standing water in rural Iowa's corn fields to the destroyed homes and buildings in downtown Cedar Rapids, the remnants of this summer's floods can be seen across Iowa," said Harkin, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. "This emergency funding is critical to our state and to so many Midwestern states ravaged by weather this summer. I urge my fellow appropriators to create a solid federal disaster relief package."

"The hurt continues in Iowa as people rebuild their lives and businesses. It's time we address the needs of Iowans and provide relief for those who are hurting. Iowans can't and shouldn't have to wait any longer," Grassley said. "As the Appropriations Committee reevaluates the needs of the states that have been hit by natural disasters, it's important that we continue to provide additional input on what we're hearing from our constituents."

The full text of the letter follows.

September 18, 2008

The Honorable Robert C. Byrd
United States Senate
Committee on Appropriations
135 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Ranking Member
United States Senate
Committee on Appropriations
123 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Byrd and Ranking Member Cochran:

Over the summer months, a number of major natural disasters have devastated much of the country, leaving many Americans in need of substantial assistance. As always, following each of these tragic events, we have seen the generosity and resilience of the American people and the heroic efforts of first-responders, and state, and local governments. However, alone their remarkable efforts are not enough. As communities across the country cleanup, rebuild and recover, we believe that a federal disaster relief package is urgently needed.

There are a number of accounts that we believe it will be especially important to include in this initial package, and we would recommend that they are provided with at least the following amounts:

$12 billion for Community Development Block Grants

$250 million for Social Services Block Grants

$200 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Conservation Program

$350 million for the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Watershed Program

In addition, there are a significant number of other very important accounts which need considerable increases in funding above the levels set in the disaster assistance component of the proposal released by Chairman Byrd on July 30, 2008. We will be in contact with the appropriate subcommittees to discuss the necessary level of funding for those accounts in the next few days.

We also request that bill language be included in the measure directing that the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development allocate to each state not less than 50% of the Community Development Block Grant funds provided within 45 days of enactment, based on the best damage estimates available from each state, and that the guidelines and waivers for the use of those funds, commonly provided in a notice of funding availability, be released not more than 45 days after enactment so these needed resources can be put to use as soon as possible.

Finally, we believe that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Small Business Administration (SBA) can best provide the Committee with the funding levels that they will need to meet their obligations to assist the disaster impacted areas.

Thank you for your ongoing assistance in this important matter. We look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that these much needed funds arrive in our communities as quickly and efficiently as possible.


Tom Harkin
Kay Bailey Hutchison
Mary Landrieu
Christopher S. Bond
Richard J. Durbin
Charles Grassley
Amy Klobuchar
Evan Bayh
Barack Obama
Debbie Stabenow
Pat Roberts
Claire McCaskill
Sam Brownback
Norm Coleman
Blanche L. Lincoln
Mark Pryor
Herb Kohl
Bill Nelson
Russell D. Feingold
Richard Lugar
Carl Levin
David Vitter
John Cornyn

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