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Pelosi: New Direction Congress Rising to the Challenge of Gulf Coast Recovery

New Orleans -Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued the following statement during a news conference in New Orleans today at the conclusion of the Congressional delegation visit to the Gulf Coast in advance of the third anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  The 22-member Congressional delegation was led once again by House Democratic Majority Whip James E. Clyburn and included Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair John Larson.

On their four-day trip, the lawmakers visited several sites in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and coastal Mississippi to determine where the region stands on the issues of health care, housing, education, infrastructure, criminal justice and insurance reform.

“Mr. Clyburn has led us now on our fourth visit to the Gulf Coast since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.  And when we come here and make promises, they are promises that we intend to keep.

“We have seen improvement in the physical structure, the building of the levees, and we have heard personal stories.  I want to say that some of the success we have seen is because under Mr. Clyburn's leadership, Congress appropriated $6.4 billion in assistance, $3 billion more than the President requested to bolster the levees, restore coastlines, recruit teachers, open schools, provide health care, and assist small business.

“Under Mr. Clyburn's leadership, we waived the local match requirement under the Stafford Act, saving the region $1.9 billion and jump-starting work on 20,000 stalled projects.

“Since we were here last year, we provided much-needed Congressional oversight by holding more that 30 hearings on Katrina recovery.

“In our year-end spending bill last December, we provided $3 billion for Louisiana's Road Home program. Last month, in the Emergency Supplemental appropriations bill, we included $5.8 billion for improving Gulf Coast levees and most recently, provided $73 million for permanent supportive housing.

“On this trip, we saw what a difference our efforts in Congress had on the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  Mayor Nagin told us that New Orleans' economy is expanding because businesses are growing and families are rebuilding their homes. With UNITY of Greater New Orleans, we ensured that the most vulnerable people in the city are not homeless.

“We visited with Valerie Schexnayder and Karen Vinsanau, two very determined women in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. We were able to help them by funding the Road Home program and took steps to eliminate red tape, allowing people to receive a grant to rebuild their home, and the satisfaction that she took in her home. And now Valerie and Karen have their homes and they want their neighbors back, so they will be leaders in rebuilding their community.

“On our to-do list, when we spoke to Governor Jindal, he spoke to us about extending the reimbursement period of the state's cost share of the levees, $1.8 billion.  Congressman Cazayoux, one of the newest Members of Congress, and Whip Clyburn have already called on the President to issue an executive order to meet the governor's request and I associate myself with that appeal as well.  It is up to the President; with a stroke of a pen, he could make that change.

“Mayor Nagin asked us for additional funding for infrastructure, health care, especially PTSD.  Such a large number of people in the region have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and we need to recognize that critical fact.

“UNITY of Greater New Orleans asked us to extend the expiration date of the housing disaster voucher program past the spring of 2009.  I told them we need to extend it to at least 2011 and made that commitment to them.

“At the LSU community health clinic, they wanted funding for a teaching hospital, it is clear and critical to serving the needs of the city's residents and providing an economic boost to the community.  Not only the city but the region.

“In our Town Hall meeting in Mississippi, we promised to continue our work to move at least some portion of Congressman Gene Taylor's proposals on availability of multi-peril insurance.  It should never happen again that people lose their confidence in the insurance company by buying policies only to find out in the small print that when it was time to be reimbursed, they are out of luck.

“At Xavier University in New Orleans, we talked about in the Higher Education Bill, which we hope to bring to the floor, with the higher education disaster program and promised to help the private institutions of higher learning receive the same waiver of insurance.       

“Katrina and Rita are a challenge to the conscience of the American people and the New Direction Congress is rising to that challenge.  What is happening in the Gulf Coast in areas of education, health care and infrastructure, can serve as the model for change for the rest of our nation.  We will work together and honor our responsibly to you and applaud the determination and the spirit for change and for a New Direction that will serve our entire country well.”