BY DOC HASTINGS
Like many of you, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Many lives have been lost and countless homes and businesses have been destroyed. Recovery and rebuilding in the Gulf Coast will take hard work and the support of our entire nation now - and well into the future.
One of America's greatest strengths is our long-standing tradition of pulling together in times of need. In newspapers across Central Washington - and across the country - we see evidence of the tremendous generosity of the American people. Citizens are opening up their homes, volunteering their time and donating money and supplies to help the relief efforts. Many states, including Washington, have volunteered to take in evacuees. Former Presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton have teamed up to help raise funds for those in need - as have many national and local charitable organizations.
Assisting the victims of Hurricane Katrina is the number one priority for Congress and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. To date Congress has approved $62.3 billion to provide immediate help for those impacted by this tragic disaster. This funding will be used to help provide evacuees with shelter, health care, basic necessities, unemployment insurance payments and individual disaster assistance. It also will be put toward debris removal, search and rescue operations and restoration of navigation locks and levees in the Gulf Coast region.
The House of Representatives has also approved legislation to make it easier for those impacted to receive welfare and other aid more quickly, to enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency to borrow more money for the national flood insurance program, and to ensure that students forced to withdraw from college because of Hurricane Katrina aren't forced to repay their student aid, grants and scholarships.
This is a start - but Congress will continue working to help those impacted by this disaster. And, we will conduct a review of the response to Hurricane Katrina to learn how federal, state and local authorities can improve future responses to disasters.
I have received a number of calls asking how to help with the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina. I encourage those who wish to contribute to the effort to visit http://www.usafreedomcorps.gov or call 1-877-USA-CORPS to learn more about how to help.
Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) is Central Washington's 4th District Congressman.