(CNSNews.com) - Congressional Republican leaders announced Wednesday the formation of a bipartisan committee made up of senior members to investigate what went wrong in the initial response to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast, in addition to a host of other legislative measures designed to address the needs of the hurricane victims.
The congressional committee will report its findings to Congress no later than Feb. 15, 2006, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said during a press conference with House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
"Let us be clear. We should not diminish in any way the fact that there were acts of heroism by individuals and victories by our first responders who risked their lives," said Frist.
"I was on the ground for two days and got to see these victories first hand, but we all agree that in many areas, the initial relief response to Hurricane Katrina was unacceptable at the local, state and federal levels," Frist added.
The senator said the committee will review "at all levels of government the immediate preparation and recovery from Hurricane Katrina."
Meanwhile, Congress - which has already approved $10.5 billion in emergency funds for the recovery effort - is poised to approve another $52 billion requested by President Bush this week, Hastert announced.
Congress will also take up other Hurricane Katrina-related bills, including "one that removes some of the normal restrictions and red tape so that those in need can get welfare and others aid quickly," Hastert said.
Hastert said other bills being considered include a forgiveness program for students affected by the disaster who would otherwise be forced to pay back their student aid once they withdraw from college.
"We also have bills to get our federal court system back up and moving and to ensure that students forced to withdraw from college because of the hurricane aren't forced to pay their student aid or grants or scholarships back to the federal government," said the congressman.
In addition, Congress will take up a bill giving the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the authority to borrow additional funds if necessary for the national flood insurance program, Hastert announced. "And we're looking at another measure that would allow FEMA to remove debris from private lands," he added.
"All of these bills have one goal - to get help to the people of the Gulf Coast and to get it to them now. It's a massive effort, and it's going to take continued effort from not just the federal government, but from the state and local authorities also," Hastert concluded.
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