Davis proposes bill for Katrina relief

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2005

REGION-In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis delivered three pieces of legislation Wednesday to the U.S. House of Representatives designed to provide access to personal resources, protect funding for state Medicaid programs and ensure voting rights for those displaced by the storm.

Davis, who represents parts of central and west Alabama, will introduce three bills in the House that will address basic issues associated with helping victims get their lives back in order.

One of the acts introduced by Davis was the Emergency Savings Relief Act of 2006. This act will provide victims of Hurricane Katrina the ability to withdraw funds without penalty from their individual retirement accounts and certain retirement plans. The legislation will exempt those affected from Hurricane Katrina from a 10 percent additional tax, now incurred by withdrawing early from their 401K or other personal retirement plans over the next six months.

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Davis said the bill came about to present hurricane victims with a way to put the money they had earned to use in this time of crisis.

“Obviously, our most pressing need is subsistence for the most vulnerable victims of Katrina, but we should not overlook the fact that the victims of Katrina also include middle-class Americans who have saved and invested, but now face an economic crisis,” Davis said. “They should be able to tap into their savings and meet this crisis without facing an unfair penalty.”

Davis also delivered the Emergency Medicaid Relief Act of 2005, which would suspend proposed federal cuts in Medicaid budgets for 29 states, including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, which are scheduled to go into effect Sept. 3. The cuts are scheduled due to both normal fluctuations in the matching rate, but also are caused by a re-benchmarking of per capita income data by the Department of Commerce for 2003 and prior years. Davis said these cuts would have presented significant challenges to states working to provide services for Hurricane Katrina.

“It would be immoral to subject the Gulf State’s Medicaid reductions at a time when their Medicaid burden is greater than ever,” Davis said. “It would be unreasonable to go forward with funding cuts for a variety of other states that will be asked to absorb evacuees. This bill would save Alabama alone $55 million in lost federal Medicaid funds.”

The final bill introduced by Davis was The Displaced Citizen’s Voter Protection Act of 2005. This bill ensures that victims of Hurricane Katrina have the right to vote by absentee ballot while temporarily displaced. Davis said the provisions ensure that displaced citizens receive the same voting provisions of the Act apply only to those individuals who certify that they are otherwise qualified to vote in their original place of residence and they intend to return to that residence in the near future.

“Our displaced citizens should have the same rights as our soldiers and for that matter, our college students, to participate in their states elections while they are temporarily away from home,” Davis said. “This bill would allow evacuees to assert by affidavit that they intend to return to Louisiana or Mississippi and vote in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections by absentee ballot.”

The Act covers elections for federal office held through 2008 and provides that state agencies designated under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 take steps to notify individuals of their absentee voting rights.