Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing.
Before last summer, the Stafford Act was just an abstract law for many of us. That changed on August 29, 2005, when Katrina made landfall. Now, it’s our responsibility to determine what we can do to ensure that the Stafford Act, and the agencies that implement it, have the flexibility and the resources necessary to respond to the next Katrina.
I made my first trip to New Orleans last week, and I was amazed by what I saw. No matter how many times you hear that parts of New Orleans are still buried under tons of debris, no matter how many times you meet folks who have no home to return to, nothing prepared me for the horrifying reality that is New Orleans.
I asked the folks there how we in the Senate can help them. And, because they’ve had almost a year to think about these things, they had some good answers.
These folks in New Orleans asked that the Stafford Act establish a magnitude of disaster above the “major disaster” level. They suggested a “catastrophic disaster” designation that could provide the long term resources and assistance that such a disaster would require.
They asked for an increased federal share in paying for “emergency work” – work such as the clearance and removal of debris and the temporary restoration of essential public services. After Katrina, homeowners were forced to pay for debris clean-up because FEMA wouldn’t foot the bill.
And they asked for changes in housing assistance. Clearly, FEMA was not equipped to address the housing needs of the displaced. We need to fix that problem in any reauthorization of the Stafford Act.
I met with community members from New Orleans East, which has the third largest Vietnamese population in the United States. Half of this community has returned, and they are doing their part to help revive the City. But the City placed a landfill in the community, hastily constructed in the aftermath of the storms. Unfortunately, they neglected to put a clay liner in the landfill, and residents are concerned that toxic wastes will soon be seeping into the community they are trying so desperately to rebuild. I want to know what can be done within the Stafford Act to ensure that environmental protections are respected.
I look forward to hearing what the witnesses have to say about this and other issues relating to the Stafford Act.
Thank you again Mr. Chairman and Mr. Ranking Member for holding this hearing.