Congressional hearing targets FEMA on aid distribution

CNN reports that FEMA officials were subjected to sharp questioning in Thursday's joint congressional hearing that examined how FEMA supplies meant for Katrina and Rita victims sat unused and were ultimately marked as surplus and distributed to other states and federal agencies. Facing South has reported on CNN's initial investigation that found FEMA had given away more than $18.5 million (a corrected estimate from the original $85 million calculation) in the household goods while Gulf Coast aid agencies were desperately still in need of such items.

FEMA defended the agency's handling of the supplies, but pledged to check with states before any future giveaways, reports CNN. At the hearing FEMA officials claimed the stockpiles, which had been sitting for two years in a Texas warehouse, had been offered to Gulf Coast residents in the aftermath of the storm and were returned to FEMA without being claimed.

But according to CNN, Sen. Mary Landrieu said FEMA never told state officials or relief agencies involved in recovery efforts that the "living kits" meant to resettle hurricane survivors were still available. "How can people ask for something they don't know exists?" Landrieu asked at the hearing. CNN explains:

Landrieu, a frequent critic of the agency since Katrina, said FEMA didn't even contact its own office in New Orleans to determine whether the kits -- which included items such as cleaning supplies, kitchenware and towels -- were still needed before it turned the material over to the GSA as surplus property. She also asked FEMA to explain what happened to a February request by the head of the Louisiana Recovery Authority for $6 million in "household establishment" funds for about 6,000 families moving out of FEMA housing.

Audio of the hearing can be found here.

In other Gulf Coast news, the Times-Picayune reports that a new $24 billion economic stimulus and disaster assistance package unveiled Thursday by Senate Democrats could provide $3 billion for continued Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, financing that was left out of the emergency spending bill enacted in June. The legislation would give Louisiana 30 years, instead of three, to repay more than $1.7 billion as its share of levee upgrades, which Facing South reported on last week.