Government to cut spending for relief efforts

As the federal government enters a new fiscal year, legislators search for ways to fund hurricane relief efforts without plunging the national deficit further into the red.

The U.S. government has appropriated more than $62 billion to help rebuild the gulf coast that hurricane Katrina destroyed on Aug. 29. That figure is expected to escalate to an estimated $200 billion.

In his Sept. 16 speech from New Orleans, Pres. Bush said raising taxes to help offset some of the financial impact of the hurricane relief effort was not an option. He instead called for a decrease in government spending.

This decrease includes potential cutbacks in programs deemed “low priority.”

Some politicians have suggested delaying the Medicare prescription drug program, projected to take effect in January 2006. The program is a federal insurance plan that enables senior citizens to pay less for prescription medicine.

But several White House and legislative officials said they opposed postponing the legislation that was passed in 2003 as a part of the Medicare reform bill.

Mary Lee Millman, public affairs officer for the regional office of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service in Atlanta, said there are no foreseeable delays in the program’s implementation.

“It’s on schedule,” she said. Everything is moving ahead as planned.”

Some political critics say the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient and Transportation Equity Act: a highway bill signed into legislation on Aug. 10, is a better target.

SAFETEA-LU, as it is commonly known, is the “largest surface transportation bill” in the country’s history, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration.

The money would be used to build new highways and improve existing ones.

Critics of the bill consider it pork-barrel spending, a term used to describe programs that legislators use to increase their political clout in their home states.

Its proponents say the majority of its budget is used to improve dangerous roads that are responsibl for a significant number of accidents, injuries and deaths.

Tallahassee has requested an estimated $16 million to widen two sections of Capital Circle N.W., from Tallahassee Regional Airport to I-10 and from I-10 to West U.S. Highway 90, according to the Florida Department of Transportation’s High Priority and Transportation Improvement Projects.

Some legislators have volunteered to give back some of the money allotted to their home states for projects that do not require immediate action.

House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, offered more than half of the $129 million designated for her home state of California.

But former House Majority Leader, Tom Delay, said all budget spending is necessary and cutting it would be counterproductive for the economy.

In addition to funding money to physically rebuild the gulf coast, the federal government has considered reimbursing some non-profit organizations that have virtually depleted their funds because of hurricane relief assistance.

Jessica Norris, Director of Community Involvement for the local American Red Cross chapter, said the organization has spent more than $1 million helping displaced evacuees who have come to Tallahassee.

“We rely on the generosity of the American people,” she said. We do not receive any federal funding.”

Although she said the local office has not raised a great deal of money so far, through careful financial planning year-round, it is prepared to endure the storm.

Contact Andrea Young at