Hurricane-hit U.S. states need federal help akin to 9/11 aid

Congress hasn't given the same attention and aid to states slammed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita as it did to New York after the 2001 terror attacks because the storms didn't spark as much patriotism as 9/11, Louisiana's economic development chief said today. In an interview with The Associated Press, state Economic Development Secretary Michael J. Olivier called Congress' response to terrorism very different "from an act of God" like a hurricane.

"I guess it's different because it was such a patriotic deal," said Olivier, in Washington to attend a meeting of rebuilding and economic recovery officials from the Gulf Coast. Olivier would not say precisely how much federal aid Louisiana will need to rebuild New Orleans and other devastated parts of the state, but said it could range between $100 billion and $200 billion (Ђ85 billion and Ђ170 billion) and take a decade to complete.

That's up to 10 times more than the $20 billion (Ђ17 billion) pledged by President George W. Bush and approved by Congress to help New York rebuild after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist declined to respond to Olivier's remarks before seeing Louisiana's aid request. But, "we have been responsive to the requests that have been coming forth, and we certainly have been working with the delegation from the Gulf Coast," said Frist spokesman Bob Stevenson.

Congress bristled at an earlier request for $250 billion (Ђ213 billion) by Louisiana's two senators, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, to help the state recover. That relief package has never been approved.

So far, Congress has approved $62 billion (Ђ53 billion) in disaster relief aid for victims of Katrina, which hit Aug. 29, and Rita, which followed on Sept. 24. But nearly all of that money was directed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which so far has spent it about half of it on immediate needs for victims _ like housing, food and clothing _ instead of long-term rebuilding projects.

Earlier this month, the House approved legislation to give $8.2 billion (Ђ7 billion) in advance returns on tax-exempt bonds and other tax credits to help businesses get back on their feet in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. But Olivier said Louisiana alone needs $30.5 billion (Ђ26 billion) from Washington just for short-term loans, grants and tax-exempt bonds to spur the state's economy, the AP reports.

An estimated 81,000 businesses in Louisiana suffered losses as a result of the hurricanes, affecting a third of the state's economy, Olivier said. In response, state officials turned to New York economic development experts for guidance on how to rebuild businesses after a catastrophic event like 9/11. "It was based on a model that already existed, and that was the response _ Congress' response _ to 9/11 for New York state," Olivier said. "We had the best model we could find, and that was it."


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