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Economic Impact of Hurricanes Disputed by Experts and Officials

The U.S. Federal Reserve announced Tuesday that they voted to keep raising interest rates last month because they did not think the impact of Hurricane Katrina would be significant. Federal Reserve officials say damage caused by Katrina would only have a temporary economic effect, but local area officials say otherwise.

U.S. President George Bush made his eighth visit to the devastated New Orleans region Tuesday. He took a turn working on a house being rebuilt by the group "Habitat for Humanity," and visited a nursery school.

The president remarked, "In spite of the fact that a lot of equipment was damaged and homes destroyed and teachers are without places to live, now this school district is strong and it's coming back."

Despite the President's optimism and the billions of dollars of aid promised to the city of New Orleans, local officials say the economy is in bad shape.

Hundreds of businesses have declared bankruptcy, and more are expected to in the coming months. Even if companies' plants, offices and inventories survived the storm, there are fewer customers.

Sarah Kracke works for Greater New Orleans Incorporated, which helps spearhead economic development in the area.

"Everyday that passes is another business that declares bankruptcy or someone else who can't make payroll."

The area airports and hospitals are out of money and letting employees go. Three thousand city workers lost their jobs because the city can't afford to pay them. Residents are slowly starting to return, but there is no work to be had and no infrastructure to support jobs.

Local government officials say one of the problems is that there are too many restrictions on federal aid, which by law, cannot be used for salaries. Federal Emergency Management Agency official Thad Allen says that's a law that can only be amended by those in Washington D.C.

"We have referred the issues regarding the inability of the cities to meet wages up to the folks in Washington," said Vice Admiral Allen.

Over 300,000 people have filed for unemployment as a direct result of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Congress approved an aid package worth $750 million dollars last week, but it is only a loan, not a grant.