March 19, 2007
Moving forward with our insurance reform legislation
This week, the House Financial Services Committee announced it will hold a hearing on an important insurance bill that I am spearheading through Congress. This is great news for our state because my legislation will create a multiple peril reinsurance program within the National Flood Insurance Program that will allow homeowners the option of buying this insurance and knowing that all of their damage from wind and water will be covered.
Too often, adjusters have fought with Louisiana residents over whether their damage came from wind or water. In the end, it does not matter; damage is damage, and my bill will give homeowners and business owners the option of buying their comprehensive coverage from one source.
Too many residents of Louisiana are unable to find any insurance coverage, much less coverage that is affordable. I have been working hard on this issue, and this bill is a good step towards rectifying this problem by giving consumers at least one more choice. I am glad that my colleagues in Congress are showing a commitment to fixing these problems that face our state.
Making sure insurance claims can be paid
In addition, I joined a group of bipartisan Members of Congress this week in introducing national risk catastrophe legislation.
We have to do more to lower insurance premiums throughout Louisiana, and this bill will be a step in the right direction. The federal government has a history of aiding areas devastated by disaster, like it did in New York City in the aftermath of September 11th. Louisiana residents deserve the same treatment; it should not matter if the damage was caused by a terrorist attack or a hurricane.
Specifically, this legislation would establish a layer-based reinsurance system, which would allow the private sector to take the lead on property insurance. The government would in turn provide a national backstop in cases where a natural catastrophe reached a significant level, beyond the capacity of the private market, like it did following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Too many people in our state have been left to fend for themselves and pay large premiums because the insurance industry cannot keep up with the huge number of claims being filed. This bill will help ensure that Louisianians will have lower premiums and will get their claims paid so that they can begin the monumental task of rebuilding their lives. Importantly, the chairman of the Financial Services Committee has offered his support. I will keep working with my colleagues to push this legislation in Congress.
Advocating for more nursing workforce development
As I meet more and more people from throughout our state, I continue to hear the same concerns over and over. We need better access to health care. We need improved schools. And most of all, we need economic development in our state.
This impacts every industry and every community in our state. But if we want to expand the businesses in our state, and bring new industries to Louisiana, we have to ensure that we have a trained workforce ready to work.
This week, I spoke to nurses from Oak Grove and Natchitoches who were concerned about the nursing shortage in their areas. This shortage exists statewide though, and is something that has to be addressed immediately.
I have been a vocal advocate in Congress for ensuring that we are adequately funding important workforce development programs for the nursing industry. Hospitals throughout the U.S. report that a shortfall of nurses is impacting the quality of care that is provided. There are currently thousands of health care jobs sitting vacant in Louisiana, even as our children leave the state looking for jobs. And over the next ten years, our country is anticipated to need more than one million new nurses as the baby-boomer generation ages. This will both help improve the quality of health care and also create good paying jobs for our people.
I sent a letter to the leadership in the House of Representatives this week pushing for an increase in support for nurse workforce development programs. To ensure that we are able to meet the demands on our health care system, we must have a drastic increase in the number of workers who are ready to work today, and I will continue to work hard to support Louisiana nurses.
Funding for recovery projects
The House Appropriations Committee passed an important supplemental spending bill last week that contains billions of dollars for hurricane recovery projects in Louisiana and along the entire Gulf Coast. This funding comes as part of a much larger bill, and I have called on leadership in Congress to allow for a separate vote on hurricane relief funding without adding other unrelated provisions.
Too many people along the Gulf Coast are still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita for political games to be played with recovery dollars.
I have been advocating for this funding for crucial projects in our area, and some of the major projects I have been pushing were included in the bill. This legislation includes $1.3 billion in new funds to repair and accelerate completion of flood protection projects throughout our area. In addition, $650 million will be provided to complete flood protection projects at the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal. Our first priority must be ensuring that all of our communities in Louisiana have adequate flood protection, and I will continue to call on my colleagues in Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fully fund and implement all of the flood and storm needs in Louisiana.
The supplemental bill also contains $60 million that may be used to help our educational systems recover, as well as recruit and train new teachers and faculty. This includes $30 million to elementary and secondary schools in order to help them recruit and retain teachers and $30 million to higher educational facilities that were forced to suspend their operations for at least 30 days as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I requested both of these important provisions in order to support our schools and higher education facilities.
I introduced legislation last Congress that was signed into law that granted the Secretary of Education the waiver authority to allow higher education institutions to forgo local matching funds in federal campus based aid funds. In addition, I introduced a bill that was included as part of the 2005 Department of Defense Appropriations bill which allocated $1.6 billion in education support for the thousands of children displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The money helped schools in Louisiana rebuild and reopen so displaced students could return home.
In addition, two provisions that I have been pushing for were included in this bill. The first provision will allow FEMA to forgive the Community Disaster Loans for local governments. In addition, the legislation also contains $910 million to waive the state and local cost shares resulting from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I have been a vocal advocate for these provisions as communities in our state need this assistance as they continue to rebuild and recover. Other communities in previous disasters have received this assistance, and Louisiana should be afforded the same benefit.
I will continue to push leadership in the House of Representatives to let Members of Congress take a vote on these important provisions separate from the rest of the bill so that this important funding can get to our state as quickly as possible.
This weekend, I enjoyed spending some time in Mansura, just north of Cottonport in Avoyelles Parish. I always enjoy catching up with old friends in the area. I hope you have a great week, and feel free to contact my office if we can be of any assistance to you!