Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Seattle) recently introduced two pieces of legislation related to the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: The Emergency Action for Vulnerable Children Act and The Gas Stamps Act of 2005.
"We don't yet know the extent of the tragedy affecting thousands of foster children in the Gulf," McDermott said last Thursday, Sept. 8. "We do know the need will be great and the time to act is now."
He added: "Skyrocketing energy prices in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have affected every American, and people least able to cope, whether they live in Louisiana, Washington or Illinois, need relief until the market stabilizes."
McDermott, a medical doctor and child psychiatrist, noted that as many as 10,000 foster children in the hurricane-affected region need help. Many are unaccounted for, he said, and with each passing hour come new stories of injured and missing parents, or parents who don't have adequate medical care and therefore can't take care of their children.
"The current child welfare program is not designed to handle this crisis," McDermott said. "In fact, each state has its own unique program and eligibility criteria for child welfare.
"As a result," he added, "many of the children affected by the hurricane may fall through the cracks or not get adequate or timely services to which they should be entitled."
McDermott emphasized a key point. "The current system dramatically restricts services to children aimed to improve their general well-being, such as mental health counseling and therapy- exactly the services these vulnerable children need, now."
According to McDermott, the Emergency Action for Vulnerable Children Act would accomplish three critical things. First, the legislation would ensure that all services and assistance to foster children from the affected hurricane area are paid for by the federal government.
Second, the bill eliminates the bureaucratic barriers foster children and foster parents face before becoming eligible for foster care assistance. Third, the bill ensures that services like mental health treatment for children will be financed by the federal government.
"As someone who has worked with children," McDermott explained, "I can tell you we have got to act promptly to extend a hand of hope and to begin to heal the wounds that will ravage these young minds if left untreated."
The Gas Stamps Act of 2005 would provide temporary relief over the next three months to those Americans who already qualify for food stamps, McDermott said. The legislation would ensure that each household receiving food stamps could receive as much as $30 per month, or the equivalent of about one tank of gas. The legislation would be paid for by a windfall profits tax on gas and oil companies which are reporting record profits. The Department of Energy says some companies are seeing a 400 percent increase in their profits.
"No sector of the economy should stand to gain from the pain inflicted on the people in the Gulf as well as average Americans across the country from Hurricane Katrina," McDermott said. "Yet that is exactly what will happen unless we act because big oil and gas companies are earning inconceivable amounts of money."
McDermott is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues such as a windfall profits tax. He also is the Ranking Democrat on the Human Resources Subcommittee which has jurisdiction over programs affecting foster children and disadvantaged Americans.
For further information on this legislation, you can visit www.house.gov/mcdermott, or send an email to McDermott's communications director Mike Decesare at email@example.com.