Washington Post: For the first time since Hurricane Katrina ravaged their homes more than six months ago, residents of New Orleans's flooded neighborhoods this week started hoping again. The state of Louisiana launched a program that could provide homeowners with grants designed to cover the gap between the real cost of reconstruction and the funds they have already received from insurance companies and the government.
The program, which was worked out in consultation with the White House, is not extravagant: It covers only residential property, it is capped at $150,000, and it is designed to work in concert with a zoning plan so that people are discouraged from rebuilding in unsafe areas. The state expects that upward of 100,000 people will be eligible to receive funds.
Whether they all will get money is another question, since last week Congress took a step toward ensuring that some don't. The House Appropriations Committee took up on Wednesday the $4.2 billion that the administration requested to complete the funding of the program -- and refused to designate the money for any one state. Texas wants some. Mississippi probably wants some. And when other states start thinking a bit harder about their Katrina-related costs -- schoolchildren educated, evacuees housed -- they may start wanting some, too.
But for once, this $4.2 billion is not a sum plucked out of the air. It is the figure that the White House, the state and the city figured would be needed, along with money already allocated, to make the compensation program work: It is a precisely calculated sum, tied to the number of flooded houses, the amount of insurance money paid out and the actual costs of reconstruction. If the House insists on carving money out of it for others -- as it has done with other hurricane funds -- these calculations will be thrown off completely.
If the country, and the Congress, want New Orleans to revive, they should leave this one chunk of funding for Louisiana alone.