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Administration to Ask for $2 Billion More Quake Relief

By Alan C. Miller
Los Angeles Times


The Clinton administration will ask Congress Tuesday for $2 billion more in federal earthquake relief than it had previously announced -- making the emergency assistance package the largest ever proposed, administration officials said Monday.

Citing still-rising damage estimates, a flood of relief applicants and the impact of serious aftershocks, the administration is boosting its request for housing grants, small business loans and other federal aid to $8.6 billion. In addition, nearly $900 million in federal funds has already been committed to the quake-ravaged region.

"We're finding more and more damage," Richard Krim, the associate director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told a House subcommittee Monday. "You look at a building, it looks OK from the outside, then you go in and start seeing cracks."

President Clinton was to send the expanded aid proposal to Capital Hill Tuesday morning. The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to begin legislative consideration Tuesday.

The new monies include a request for another $1.2 billion for FEMA, which coordinates government response to disaster and administers emergency aid. About two-thirds of the funds will be earmarked for housing assistance and social services for those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the Jan. 17 Northridge quake. The remainder will be used to make schools and other public buildings less prone to damage in future earthquakes.

Another $550 million will be added in Small Business Administration disaster assistance loans for business and homeowners -- nearly doubling the $559 million originally sought.

The aid bill will also include an increase of $50 million to $100 million in housing vouchers for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly $50 million in new funds for the Veterans Administration to repair the damaged Sepulveda Veterans hospital and $100 million for a presidential contingency fund to be spent on quake-related costs as necessary.

With the additional funds, the quake relief measure would surpass record sums spent by the federal government on other large-scale disasters. A total of $8.5 billion in federal funds has been spent jointly on aid for Hurricane Andrew in Florida and Iniki in Hawaii and Typhoon Omar. About $4.7 billion has been channeled to the Midwestern communities devastated by last year's floods.

The 6.6 pre-dawn temblor killed 61 people and inflicted extensive damage on homes, freeways, businesses and public structures. A 5.0 aftershock Saturday caused new losses.

"Much of the country fails to realize that not only was this a severe earthquake but it was right in the middle of a major urbanized area," said a senior administration official. "The damage to homes is largely uninsured and the damage to infrastructure far exceeds what one would expect from a hurricane."

The administration has received more than 215,000 requests for housing and other individual assistance at disaster centers throughout the earthquake area and projections indicate that figure could go as high as 500,000.

The SBA reports that it is receiving 1,000 applications daily and expects the tally to exceed 200,000. In comparison, the agency received 110,000 applications in the wake of Hurricane Andrew and 90,000 following the floods.

The official did not rule out future increases in aid but said that the latest figures include "both the damage we know and our projections of what we may discover. The aftershocks make it a moving target."

The full House is expected to consider the earthquake bill Thursday. Senate action will follow. Proponents aim to have the measure on Clinton's desk by the time Congress adjourns for a week Feb. 11.

The earthquake relief proposal is not expected to prompt significant opposition. Rather, the biggest battles are expected over conservative efforts to force budget cuts elsewhere to pay for assistance and initiatives to prohibit aid from going to illegal residents.

An aide to Rep. Ron Packard, R-Calif., said Monday that the lawmaker plans to introduce an amendment to the relief package Tuesday that would restrict funds in the bill to citizens or legal residents of the United States. She said this would apply to direct assistance, such as SBA loans or housing vouchers, but would exclude emergency medical care or food.

"He feels that by reimbursing these people, we're rewarding illegal behavior," the aide said. She added that Packard plans to introduce similar amendments to every spending measure that Congress considers this year.