May 10, 2006 – Among the $14 billion in "extra" budget items the US Senate crammed into its version of a supplemental military and storm-relief funding bill is a relatively small bankroll to fund housing help for some of Hurricane Katrinaâ€™s neediest survivors.
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The White Houseâ€™s original request included $202 million earmarked for rental assistance to low-income Gulf Coast residents. The House of Representativesâ€™ version, which came in under President Bushâ€™s requested $94.5 billion cap, excluded the rental-assistance provision. But the Senate last week, while keeping the presidentâ€™s post-Katrina housing request essentially intact, added a plethora of special-interest earmarks and other funding to its proposed spending package, pumping the total price up to $109 billion.
Unless a House-Senate conference strips the overall package below Bushâ€™s requested cap, the White House has said, the president may exercise his veto authority for the first time since taking office.
The progressive think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says it is afraid senators may cling tightly to "special-interest" funding they managed to insert into the spending package and let an item such as housing aid for low-income hurricane survivors hit the cutting-room floor. The Center is thus calling on Congress to restrain any attempts to slash the rental-assistance funding.
CBPP said in a statement that of all the additional spending included in the Senateâ€™s inflated proposal, housing money set aside for "working-poor families, seniors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable [Gulf Coast] residents" should be kept.
"In general, the backers of the earmarks in the Senate bill have more political clout than the impoverished hurricane victims who would benefit from the housing assistance the administration and the Senate have requested," said Robert Greenstein, the groupâ€™s executive director.
About half of the at-risk spending is tagged to pay for a program of special "project-based vouchers" that would provide rental and repair subsidies for some 13,500 apartment units, 4,500 of them reserved for people with special needs.