Federal authorities and economists this week got their first truly measurable impact of Hurricane Katrina.
*The Labor Department says there were 71,000 first-time claims for jobless benefits last week, with almost 96 percent of that total coming from layoffs caused by Katrina. *In fact, officials say there were more claims filed due to the hurricane than there were in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks. *Even before Katrina struck, rising energy costs caused inflation to surge in August, a trend exacerbated by the storm.
The hurricane's impact has touched off debate on a host of important U.S. policies, from energy to trade to agriculture. Damage estimates to the farm industry along the Gulf Coast now top $3 billion ... and the losses in Alabama haven't been tallied yet.
As the federal government prepares to pump billions of dollars of relief money into the region, farm state lawmakers from as far away as North Dakota are seeking emergency legislation to help farmers hurt by Katrina, as well as other natural disasters.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D - North Dakota: "There are so many victims of the recent hurricane in the Gulf who are heartbroken about that loss and we as a country are determined to reach out a helping hand to say, 'you're not alone.' There are others who have experienced weather-related losses and weather disaster damages. And those are our family farmers.
"This country will and should, in my judgment, embrace an understanding that we need to reach out and help all of them."
The proposed Senate legislation contains numerous relief provisions including:
Disaster payments for farmers who lose more than 25 percent of their production to a variety of perils, including flood and drought.
An additional $100 million in Emergency Conservation Program funds.
And, an extension of the Livestock Assistance Program, as well as the Milk Income Loss Compensation Programs.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D - North Dakota: "Hurricane Katrina has been devastating. There's no question that an ag disaster response will have to be made."
Congressman Earl Pomeroy is introducing a similar measure in the House. With a photo in the background that looked more like a scene from New Orleans than a North Dakota farm, Pomeroy claimed his state also is enduring weather issues.
Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D - North Dakota: "In North Dakota alone, 37 of our 53 counties have had a level of devastation that would qualify for disaster declarations. Our farmers also need help."
While the lawmakers couched their statements in "Katrina-speak," at least one North Dakota democrat seized the moment to blast the Bush administration's fiscal policies.
Senator Kent Conrad, the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, claimed the hurricane only compounded problems due to the administration's deficit spending practices.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D - North Dakota: "Frankly, we were on a course that made no sense before Katrina, and before the full costs of the war in Iraq were known. And so the need to respond to that fiscal crisis is growing hour by hour."