Congressional failures to approve emergency funding for roads, schools and housing construction have stalled Mississippi efforts to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, the state’s Republican governor testified Wednesday.
Without such help, Mississippi businesses are unable to decide where to relocate and rebuild — potentially costing the state jobs and chilling its economy, said Gov. Haley Barbour.
“We are at a point where our recovery and renewal efforts are stalled because of inaction in Washington, D.C., and the delay has created uncertainty that is having very negative effects on our recovery and rebuilding,” said Barbour, a strong ally of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Republican National Committee chairman.
“It is taking the starch out of people who’ve worked so hard to help themselves and their neighbors,” Barbour told a House panel investigating the government’s preparations and response to Katrina.
Congress has approved $62 billion in hurricane relief aid, but nearly all of that money so far has been spent on victims’ immediate needs, like food, clothing and shelter.
Some assistance praised
Barbour applauded some federal help to the state, like Coast Guard rescues in the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 29 storm, and fuel from the Transportation Department for emergency response vehicles.
He also estimated that debris removal in the state is only about half completed, and “we can’t rebuild until we clean up.”
But “more than 100 days after Katrina made landfall, our people face a problem they can’t overcome or do anything to help themselves,” Barbour said. “Today, the most important response needed by our people is for Congress to act to provide the necessary funding so we can rebuild our infrastructure which is critical to our renewal.”
Democrats on the House panel jumped at the political opportunity to align themselves with Barbour’s remarks.
“I applaud you for scolding the House leadership,” said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss. “I didn’t vote to elect Dennis Hastert, governor — you helped get him there. I’d hope you’d use that influence to get him off his duff.”