Column: Aid Continues To Flow To Gulf Coast

Date: Sept. 8, 2005
Location: Washington DC

September, 08, 2005

Aid continues to flow to Gulf Coast

Nearly two weeks have passed since Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast, and while we are still dealing with the tremendous devastation - and will be for quite some time - we are also seeing increased signs of recovery and help in our region.

Towns and cities throughout the United States have opened their hearts and homes to thousands of families displaced from their homes as a result of this horrific storm. Relief organizations both large and small are coordinating deliveries of food, clothing, water, and other basic necessities to those impacted by Katrina.

Help is even being offered from across the ocean, as over two dozen countries have stepped forward to offer financial and material support to the American people.

There has certainly been criticism of the timing involved in getting help to the victims of the storm, and much of it may indeed be warranted. However, this is not the time for pointing fingers; rather, it is the time for offering a helping hand to our neighbors in need.

I have been extremely gratified by the strong support shown to south Alabama by the administration in the aftermath of the storm. President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and several cabinet level officials have visited Alabama's Gulf Coast in recent days to tour the devastation and to offer their continuing support and prayers for everyone affected by the storm.

I was particularly honored that Dr. Rice - the first-ever secretary of state from Alabama - spent so much time with us on Sunday one week ago. From attending a church service with community leaders and congregants at Pilgrim's Rest AME Zion Church in Whistler - where the pastor, Rev. Malone Smith, Jr., delivered one of the most inspiring sermons I have ever heard - to working for a time at the disaster relief center in Bayou La Batre, Dr. Rice clearly showed that her heart was with her fellow Alabamians.

In fact, during her visit, she went well beyond offering a helping hand - she went so far as to shed tears and share hugs with those who, in a matter of just a few hours, had lost everything to the rising floodwaters.

This past week, the House of Representatives continued our efforts to fully fund the rescue, relief, and reconstruction efforts by passing a second, $51.8 billion emergency supplemental measure. This bill, which passed the House by a vote of 410-11, was passed by the Senate and signed by the president the very same day.

Together with the earlier $10.5 billion emergency measure passed last week, Congress has now allocated over $62 billion for this effort. In just the past few days alone, daily spending by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has increased to nearly $2 billion.

These numbers are staggering, and I am certain more emergency supplemental bills will be needed before this process is concluded. In fact, there is a point I have repeated several times recently which keeps the enormity of this situation in perspective.

My district in south Alabama was severely impacted by this monstrous storm. In some areas, such as Bayou La Batre and Dauphin Island, entire neighborhoods and businesses have simply been washed away. But as horrific as this impact has been on my constituents, it is only a small part of the overwhelming destruction covering 90,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast.

90,000 square miles. To put that in perspective, the area commonly known as "Ground Zero" in New York City affected by the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, totaled just 16 acres.

There is one final point I would like to make this week. As I said on the floor of the House during deliberation of this latest supplemental, hope is something Americans should never lose. Let each of us, both by our words and actions, continue to provide that hope.

Assistance is available

As I have said many times in the past following other major storms in our area - an event that has unfortunately become all too commonplace - help is available for those affected by major natural disasters. Hurricane Katrina is certainly no exception.

Regardless of the circumstances you and your family have faced during and in the aftermath of this storm, please don't make your own determination as to whether you qualify for assistance. Officials with both FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) are available to help you work through the process, and I would encourage you to contact them.

In order to begin, you must first call FEMA, which can be reached at 1-800-621-3362. As with every disaster assistance program, there will certainly be application deadlines in place. Therefore, I encourage you to make contact with the appropriate officials sooner rather than later.

And, as always, my office and I stand ready to assist you. Knowing that many of you may still be without power or telephone service, and may be for some time to come, I would encourage you to contact our office if you need any help with this process. We can be reached by calling 1-800-288-8721, and we'll be glad to do all we can to assist you.

My staff and I are here to serve you. Please call whenever we can be of assistance.