U.S. urges to find more money for Katrina victims benefits

Congress is working to provide tax cuts and health care benefits to victims of Hurricane Katrina as government money continues to flow in response to the devastation.

Congress was working on that aid as President George W. Bush planned his fourth trip to the region to give a nationally televised address Thursday night on his recovery and reconstruction plans for New Orleans and other stricken areas.

An amendment adopted Wednesday by the Senate on a voice vote would provide more than 350,000 families left homeless by Katrina with emergency housing vouchers averaging $600 (Ђ490) a month for up to six months.

Any displaced family, regardless of income, would be eligible for the program, which is slated to cost $3.5 billion (Ђ2.86 billion) over six months.

The measure was attached to a spending bill covering the departments of Commerce and Housing and Urban Development. The Senate was to pass the overall bill Thursday; a final version needs to be worked out with the House, which approved a similar spending bill without the housing aid _ before Katrina.

Next, the House and Senate hope to rush through a tax bill that, among other steps, waives penalties for hurricane victims who tap into their retirement savings accounts and provides a tax deduction to anyone who houses evacuees for two months or more.

Also Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley planed to introduce a bipartisan $5 billion to $7 billion (Ђ4 billion to Ђ6 billion) plan to speed health care to those displaced by Katrina by easing rules for Medicaid, the federal health care program for the poor, reports the AP.

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