Midwest Leaders Deplore Delay in Congress

FOR Midwesterners devastated by the flood of 1993, there is no shortage of compassion. Help has arrived in the form of clean water from southern Florida, snack foods from Kraft Foods, diapers from the Walgreens pharmacy chain, and manpower from just about everywhere.

And from Washington? Plenty of compassion but, according to government and emergency management officials, not nearly enough money.

"Washington can be pretty detached from what's happening out in the middle of America and it's important for them to realize this is a critical situation," Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) of Missouri said yesterday.

Mr. Carnahan and governors from five other flood-ravaged states met in Washington on July 27 asking for an increase in the federal aid package and a revamping of reimbursement programs. With damage estimates now hovering at the $12 billion mark, President Clinton's $3 billion proposal "is not a sufficient amount of money to come near what we need," said Richard Vohs, a spokesperson for Gov. Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa, where damage estimates have reached $2.7 billion.

Before meeting with the governors on Tuesday, Mr. Clinton said he already had plans to enlarge his bill by $1.1 billion and may consider further increases. "We're still collecting damage estimates," Clinton said. "It may get worse because it's still going on in some places."

Congress has given Clinton and the governors little encouragement. Last week, a vote on the presidential relief proposal was held up for four days while Democrats and Republicans argued over funding. The bill passed Tuesday in the House, but Clinton said he will increase the package by $1.1 billion before the Senate vote.

IN the meantime, as Midwesterners and emergency workers fight river crests that continue to set new records, tales of the budgetary saga in Washington are only adding to their frustrations, said Rep. Neal Smith (D) of Iowa.

"When people fight a flood for 10 days with every sign of the sun followed by more rain, they don't want to hear that Congress didn't act," says Mr. Smith. "It's as if they don't care and don't even know there's a problem."

Beyond Capitol Hill, however, federal emergency workers are earning nothing but praise for their efforts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with the departments of Defense, Transportation, and Agriculture, have launched a national relief effort that is meeting immediate needs and already implementing long-term recovery programs.

"I'm genuinely surprised at the response of these agencies. I've never seen such a concerted effort by government," says Rep. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois.

Federal agencies are currently still operating out of their own budgets and thus were not affected by Congress's delay in passing Clinton's relief package. As of Tuesday, the Small Business Administration had approved 433 loans totaling more than $10 million and thousands more applications have been distributed, said emergency administrator Alfred Judd.

But, as relief efforts forge ahead, decisions in Washington will have a heightened impact on decisions in the field, says Phil Zaferopulos, a FEMA coordinating officer in Wisconsin. "There's a comfort factor when you know Congress has approved something," Mr. Zaferopulos said. "But there's no question we're going to need bigger dollars. $3 billion is just a start."

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