DALLAS - Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is asking Congress for millions of dollars in aid to assist the state as it recovers from two hurricanes in the last two weeks.
Jindal sent a letter to congressional leaders in both parties asking for the assistance, which includes $410 million in specific requests as well as a broader appeal for additional millions of dollars of help for the Louisiana economy.
The governor said the state is still struggling to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and was battered again by Hurricane Gustav, which came ashore west of New Orleans on Sept. 1, and Hurricane Ike, with a storm surge that inundated much of the southwestern portion of the state on Sept. 13.
"For nearly two weeks, millions of Louisiana residents have been without power, clean water, and other necessities," Jindal said. "Millions of Louisianans were forced to evacuate their homes before Hurricane Gustav struck, and many have still been unable to return."
Jindal said Louisiana property losses from Gustav include $4.5 billion to $10 billion of property damage, and $2.5 billion to $5 billion in lost economic activity. Similar estimates for Ike have not yet been developed.
Thousands of employees were displaced by the Labor Day storm, the governor said, and 97,000 employers in the state suffered an interruption of economic activity.
"Many of these are small businesses still struggling to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Jindal said. "Louisiana, still recovering from the 2005 hurricanes and facing further damages from Hurricane Ike, requests assistance in upcoming stimulus legislation or other legislative vehicles in Congress."
The letter is addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"These priorities are among the many challenges still facing our state as we recover from Hurricane Gustav and do not represent an exhaustive list of recovery needs, especially as we still assess damage from Hurricane Ike," Jindal said.
Among the solutions suggested by Jindal are an additional allocation of Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds for parishes affected by this year's storms, an extension of current GO Zone bond bonus depreciation deadlines, and business recovery bridge loans.
The GO Zone bond program approved by Congress in late 2005 allocated $7.9 billion of the bonds to Louisiana. In 2006, Congress extended the deadline for benefiting from the bonus depreciation tax provision by two years to Dec. 31, 2010, for five counties in Mississippi and Louisiana's Calcasieu, Cameron, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, and Washington parishes.
The governor also asked the federal government to reimburse the state for 100% of its expenses in assisting hurricane victims, as was done for the 2005 storms. He wants millions of dollars more to complete federally authorized coastal protection projects in Orleans, Lafouche, and Terrebone parishes, and to expedite a delayed levee project in St. Mary Parish.
In the specific requests, Jindal asked Congress for $160 million for road and bridge repairs, $100 million in community development block grants for infrastructure and public facilities, $100 million for law enforcement equipment and infrastructure repairs aimed at recovery as well as emergency preparedness, and $50 million for reimbursements for mental health treatment, repairs to foster homes, and medical services.
Jindal said the state had to move 10,400 patients from hospitals and nursing homes in storm-affected areas, which he said was the largest medical evacuation effort in U.S. history.
The Louisiana Hospital Association said the impact of Hurricane Gustav on the state's medical facilities totals $302 million, including lost revenue, evacuation costs, debris removal, and structural damage. Jindal said the state also needs federal funds to increase the capacity of generating units at medical facilities, and to provide generators to nursing homes.
State agriculture and forestry commissioner Mike Strain is meeting today with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer in Washington in an effort to obtain federal assistance for farmers who suffered millions of dollars in commodity damages from Gustav and Ike.
Strain said preliminary estimates of the damage to agriculture from Gustav are around $425 million, but no damages figures from Ike are available
LDAF executive assistant Rene Simon said Ike's storm surge covered sugar cane fields in Iberia, St. Mary, and Vermilion parishes.
"It looks like 50% of the cane fields in the areas I was able to get to were flooded," Simon said. "It looks like Ike's surge may be about a foot lower than Hurricane Rita's, but the flooding to crops is very severe. Cane that was freshly planted will probably be lost if it's underwater."