Jun 13 2006

State may get more hurricane relief Congress nears approval on housing grants that split $1 billion among 4 states

The Birmingham News

By Mary Orndorff

Another hurricane relief package nearing approval in Congress includes $1 billion in federal housing grants that will likely be divided among Alabama and three other states.

The legislation, which still needs final votes in the House and Senate, does not dictate how the money will be split, but leaves that to the discretion of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

All told, Congress plans to send another $5.2 billion to the Community Development Block Grant program with instructions that no single state receive more than $4.2 billion.

The Bush administration and the federal housing secretary have already asked that $4.2 billion go to Louisiana, leaving $1 billion for Alabama, Florida, Texas and Mississippi.

Alabama recently finished spending more than $70 million in CDBG money from the last hurricane emergency spending bill on a series of south Alabama water, sewer and housing projects, mostly in Bayou Le Batre. But Bill Johnson, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, said the state already has approved an additional $50 million worth of hurricane recovery work. He also thinks some communities did not apply for help last time, so he hopes HUD steers another $75 million toward Alabama.

''I don't think that's way out of the realm of possibility,'' Johnson said Friday.

A spokeswoman for the top Senate appropriator who negotiated the spending bill said Congress was not setting rules on how the money is spent.

It is ''up to the discretion of the HUD secretary to divvy up the money,'' said Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Last time, HUD gave priority to the areas most in need and with the greatest concentration of destruction.

''Senator Shelby plans to work with HUD to ensure they understand the full recovery needs of Alabama as HUD begins the process of determining the distribution of CDBG funds appropriated in the supplemental,'' said Katie Boyd, a spokeswoman for Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.