By NEMS Daily Journal
The Daily Journal’s Thursday update story on recovery from the catastrophic April 27 tornado that almost leveled Smithville told the story of the Jordan and Stacy Cox family, whose residence was destroyed in the tornado, and their new, temporary home in a FEMA trailer, one of about 15 so far sited in the destruction zone.
The three-bedroom trailer gives them privacy and a space that’s their own. It is a big part of the initial steps to recovery, as in the months following Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast in 2005. Many families like the Coxes face big decisions about permanent residency and what’s best for them.
There’s also major movement, as after Katrina, to pass a helpful package of federal relief measures, this time sponsored by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the senior senator from the state hardest hit by the April storms.
It also would embrace all the disaster-declared counties in eight other states, and in fact has been called a scaled-down version of the Katrina Relief legislation handled in large measure by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., at the time chairman of the Appropriations Committee, on which Shelby also serves.
The legislation, like the tax relief packages passed after Hurricane Katrina and Midwestern flooding in 2008, would apply to counties in the disaster areas declared between April 17 and June 7 in nine states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The Mississippi River flood counties would be included.
Support for the measure significantly is bipartisan.
Income tax break
Among the benefits, residents could receive a waiver of the 10 percent penalty tax usually applied to early withdrawals from retirement accounts. Victims would be able to deduct storm losses not reimbursed by insurance from their 2011 tax return.
Small businesses, as an incentive to retain employees, would receive a 40 percent tax credit.
Private, individual and corporate response has been enormous across the affected states, but what only the government can do is provide tax relief.
The measure would create an entity similar to the Gulf Opportunity Zone following Katrina, with tax-free financing for cities to rebuild, deductions for businesses that have to recover, breaks for forest owners to replace trees, and higher tax credits for college students.
One of the most significant tax breaks would tax-exempt bonds to finance buying, constructing or renovating properties, and that could include low-income rental housing, low-income single family housing and public utility infrastructure. All the states involved have significant numbers of low-income family properties.
In Mississippi, after Katrina, the GO Zone facilitated $2.4 billion in projects financed with the low-cost bonds. Shelby’s bill would keep the tax-exempt bond program until 2018.
Everything in the measure is aimed at comprehensive recovery.
The Birmingham News and other newspapers reported that the tax policy changes would cost the U.S. Treasury $6 billion. Shelby’s office proposes that the cost be covered by rescinding money in unspent and uncommitted federal funds.
Tax relief is controversial but it is inarguable that no one could be more deserving than people trying to recover from what nature dealt, some losing every material possession, and worse, loved ones.