Funding sought for drywall homeowners

Herald Washington BureauOctober 17, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bill Nelson is urging Florida lawmakers to see if leftover federal funds could be used to help homeowners with tainted Chinese drywall.

In a letter sent late Friday to House and Senate leaders, Nelson asks lawmakers to adopt a program like one in Louisiana that sets aside $5 million in Community Development Block Grants to help homeowners affected by contaminated drywall.

“Defective Chinese drywall is ruining the health and lives of countless Floridians,’’ Nelson says in the letter, noting that several insurers have dropped policyholders whose homes contain defective drywall.

Nelson noted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating the problem and he’s asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine whether federal disaster funds could be used to help displaced homeowners.

“While we continue to pursue this in Washington, I write to urge you to examine another possible remedy,’’ he said, noting that the Louisiana Legislature passed legislation to set aside money for problems with Chinese drywall.

“I urge you to work with the Florida Governor’s office and relevant state agencies to determine, as soon as possible, if Florida has remaining disaster CDBG or other funds available to provide comparable help for our citizens,’’ he said.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Jeff Atwater said Atwater looked forward to reviewing the letter and noted that the Senate Community Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has been looking into the issue.

Bennett sounded skeptical Friday that the money would be available.

“I know that Nelson and everyone else is looking for an answer,’’ he said. “I’m not so sure the problem is not so big as that help will have to come from FEMA. I’m not sure that the block grant money is available.’’

Homeowners in Louisiana have yet to see any of the money: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — which administers the community development block grants — must sign off on Louisiana’s proposal.

Federal officials have said most of the complaints about contaminated drywall have come from Florida and Louisiana.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who has asked HUD to approve Louisiana’s bid for $5 milllion in aid, has said his office has fielded complaints from homeowners who were displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, only to find themselves having to move out of homes with shoddy drywall.

“Implementation of this program ... will help the citizens of Louisiana who have been adversely affected by toxic drywall repair the damage that has been done to their property,’’ Scalise said in a letter last month to HUD.

— James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, contributed to this report.

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