Hurricane Katrina

Grants in, rail line out of bill

WASHINGTON - A bill to bring more relief money to the Gulf Coast regions hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina came one step closer to passage Tuesday night when a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations committees confirmed most of the remaining conflicts have been resolved.

House and Senate leaders said they are optimistic the bill will be finished and ready for a vote this week.

As of press time Tuesday night Jenny Manley, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran's communications director, confirmed the bill will include:

 $972 million to help Gulf Coast farmers rebuild.

 $5.2 billion for Community Development Block Grants, largely to help homeowners who didn't have flood insurance. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will determine how much goes to Mississippi.

 $176 million to rebuild the destroyed Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport.

 $400 million for FEMA to bring in sturdier temporary modular housing than the current trailers for displaced residents. "Here we are at the beginning of another hurricane season," Manley said, to highlight the urgent need for safer temporary housing on the Gulf Coast.

 $14 million to rebuild the Gulfport Job Corps Center.

Dropped from consideration is allocation of $700 million for buying the CSX rail line for use as a public transportation right of way. Still on the table is a provision to give Northrop Grumman $140 million to $200 million in compensation for business disruption.

The relief money for Katrina's victims is part of a larger emergency spending bill worth more slightly than $92 billion. Of that money, $70.4 billion will go to supply the armed forces, $19.2 billion will go to hurricane relief, $2.3 billion will go to fight avian flu, and $1.9 billion will go to beefing up border security.

Most of the remaining conflicts center around funding for military construction projects and where exactly the money to fund the National Guard deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border will come from.

Not all the legislators were happy with the bill, which was reduced after President Bush said he would not accept spending higher than $92 billion. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) called the Bush ceiling "arbitrary" and asked, "Where are our priorities?" in regard to the massive defense expenditures.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) expressed his disapproval of the executive ceiling even more strongly. "I don't know why we have to take these numbers. This is absolutely wrong. I think it reflects the worst of the legislature," he said.