Thursday, August 27, 2009

SPECIAL REPORT: Obama, Congress get "D" grades from Gulf advocates for Katrina recovery efforts

The Institute for Southern Studies has just released this report card entitled “Grading the Katrina Recovery: How Gulf Coast leaders rate the President and Congress four years after the storm, and it is based on a survey of over 50 grassroots advocates, community, environmental and faith based organizations leaders around the Gulf Coast, on how those working on the ground feel about federal efforts in 2009 as a follow-up to their acclaimed series of annual reports on Gulf Coast recovery.

This information shows a very different side of the recovery story as of 2009 than what has been coming out in the media and what has been stated in recent press releases from DHS and other agencies and really gives credence to our local and national partners efforts to urge Congress and the Administration to continue working to make good on their promises and obligations to the people of the Gulf Coast.

SPECIAL REPORT: Obama, Congress get "D" grades from Gulf advocates for Katrina recovery efforts

For many people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the election of President Barack Obama to the White House last November brought a sense of renewed hope -- or at least an opportunity to change the course of the region's stalled Katrina recovery.

But a report released today by the Institute for Southern Studies [pdf] finds that, so far, many Gulf Coast advocates give the administration low marks for their Gulf recovery -- and they don't think Washington has lived up to its promises to make rebuilding a priority.

The report also includes a "Katrina Recovery Index" with 80 indicators on housing, health care, coastal protection, hurricane readiness and other measures of Gulf recovery.


President Obama had made the federal government's obligation to Gulf Coast rebuilding -- and the Bush administration's failure to fulfill that promise -- a centerpiece of his campaign and agenda. As Obama said on a campaign stop [pdf] in New Orleans in August 2007, "Let New Orleans be the place where we strengthen those bonds of trust, where a city rises up on a new foundation that can be broken by no storm."

Obama repeated his commitment in New Orleans in February 2008:

The broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there ... I promise you that when I'm in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington's end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency.

But the Institute's new report [pdf], based on surveys with over 50 Gulf Coast community leaders, reveals ongoing frustration with the scope and pace of federal initiatives.

Survey respondents included leaders from faith, community and environmental groups working in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. They were asked to grade the president and Congress in eight key areas -- and many expressed belief that, to date, little in Washington has changed:

* Gulf Coast leaders give the Obama administration's recovery efforts a grade of "D+." The only area where Obama ranked higher than a "D" was in the administration's willingness to "publicly acknowledge the challenges facing recovering Gulf Coast communities," which earned a "C-."

* The Obama administration scored lowest on tackling some of the biggest recovery priorities, scoring only a "D" for efforts to help displaced families return home, revitalizing infrastructure, increasing coastal hurricane protection and creating living-wage jobs and business opportunities.

* Surprisingly, Gulf Coast leaders didn't report much improvement over the previous administration: The Obama's grade of "D+" was only slightly higher than the "D-" grade for President Bush.

The Obama administration, which has been submerged in policy battles over economic stimulus and health care, argues it remains committed to the Gulf Coast. Officials point to "shaking loose" $1 billion in appropriated federal funds, moving people out of temporary housing and creating an arbitration panel to handle disputes that have hamstrung rebuilding projects.


But Gulf Coast advocates view the president's $786 billion stimulus bill passed this spring as another missed opportunity. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the White House announced before the Congressional vote that the bill "would create or preserve fewer jobs in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District than any in the nation, chiefly because the calculations were based on the district's storm-depleted population."

Congress and the president also passed on proposals for a Gulf Coast Civic Works program for "shovel-ready" green rebuilding, and a recommendation from President Bush's Gulf Coast advisor to inject $1.5 billion into stalled Gulf projects.

This may help explain this report's findings that the current Congress receives similarly low grades from Gulf advocates:

* The current 111th Congress received a "D" grade for Gulf recovery -- the highest grade (a "D+") again earned only for members' willingness to "publicly acknowledge challenges."

* The "D" grade awarded to the current Congress is almost identical to that given to the previous (110th) Congress, which also scored a "D."

Clearly, many Gulf Coast leaders believe that -- whatever the reasons -- the current leadership in Washington has not lived up to its pledge to strengthen recovery efforts in the region.

If the President and Congress are to keep their promise -- and regain the confidence of community leaders -- they must signal a more focused commitment to renewal in the still-struggling Gulf Coast.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Obama Addresses the Gulf Coast

The president, who last visited New Orleans 18 months ago, is not expected to come this week to mark the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the nation's costliest disaster after the failure of federally built floodwalls.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Open Letter To Speaker Pelosi

YOU ARE INVITED - Gulf Coast Rally To Demand Speaker Pelosi Take Action on the 4th Anniversary of Katrina


Gulf Coast Rally To Demand Speaker Pelosi

Take Action on 4th Anniversary of Katrina

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – August 24th – Supporters of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269) will gather for a rally and press conference on the 4th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in front of Speaker Pelosi's office on Friday, August 28 at noon to demand passage of this federal bill.

Specifically, Speaker Pelosi will be asked to take two small, but powerful actions:
  1. To request that she asks the five committee chairs where the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act sits to report back to her office on HR 2269 before the Congressional winter recess;
  2. To sign on as a co-sponsor HR 2269.
The Gulf Coast Civic Works Act—which is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 30 Congress members and supported by more than 240 diverse regional and national student, faith, environmental and community organizations—would create a minimum of 100,000 prevailing wage jobs and training opportunities for local and displaced workers to rebuild Gulf Coast infrastructure and restore the coastal environment utilizing green building technologies.

The rally will include:
  • a theatrical performance of "President Obama" and "Speaker Pelosi" announcing an important new policy on the 4th Anniversary of Katrina;
  • reflections from survivors of Hurricane Katrina;
  • the reading of the names of the 1,836 people who died in Hurricane Katrina, and the planting of 1836 white flags with the names of each person and age on the flag;
  • the delivering of the attached open-letter to Speaker Pelosi, as well as 10,000 signed petitions in support of HR 2269.
The rally and press conference will be held this Friday, 12 pm, at the Phillip Burton Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue on the plaza in front of the flag poles.

  • Dr. Scott Myers-Lipton, Associate Professor, San José State University, (510) 508-5382,
  • Rev. Jeff Moore, NAACP Silicon Valley/San Jose, (408) 515-1114,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Katrina Pain Index - 2009


0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant – compared to 116,708 homeowners.

0. Number of hospitals in New Orleans providing in-patient mental health care as of September 2009 despite post-Katrina increases in suicides and mental health problems.

1. Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in murders per capita for 2008.

1. Rank of New Orleans among U.S. cities in percentage of vacant residences.

2. Number of Katrina cottages completed in Louisiana as of beginning of 2009 hurricane season under $74 million dollar federal program.

33. Percent of 134,000 FEMA trailers in which Katrina and Rita storm survivors were housed after the storms which are estimated by federal government to have had formaldehyde problems.

35. Percent of child care facilities re-opened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

35. Percent increase of demand in 2009 at emergency food programs in New Orleans and surrounding parishes, “an increase pinned on the swelling ranks of under-employed and rising food, housing, and fuel costs.”

50. Ranking of Louisiana among states for overall healthcare.

52. Percent increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.

52. Percent of federal rebuilding money allocated to New Orleans that has actually been received.

60. Percent of children in New Orleans public schools who attend public charter schools.

88: Percent of the 600 New Orleans residents who will displaced by proposed new hospital complex who are minorities.

160. Number of units which will be public housing eligible in the new St. Bernard area after demolition and rebuilding. St. Bernard was constructed with 1400 public housing apartments. Only a small percentage of the 4000 families in public housing in New Orleans before Katrina will be allowed to live in the new housing being constructed on the site where their apartments were demolished.

27,279. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding after Katrina who have been determined eligible for assistance but who have still not received any money.

30,396. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans since Katrina. This reduction leaves the New Orleans public school population just over half of what it was pre-Katrina.

63,799. Number of Medicaid recipients who have not returned to New Orleans since Katrina.

65,888. Unoccupied addresses in New Orleans. This is 31% of the addresses in the City and nearly as many as Detroit, a city twice the size of New Orleans.

128,341: Number of Louisianians looking for work.

143,193. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center estimate of 311,853, the most recent population estimate in Orleans.

9.5 Million. Dollar amount of federal Medicaid stimulus rejected outright by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal which would have expanded temporary Medicaid coverage for families who leave welfare and get a job.

98 million: Dollar amount of unemployment federal stimulus dollars rejected by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that was available to bolster the unemployment compensation funds to assist 25,000 families in Louisiana.

900 Million: Dollar amount paid to ICF International, the company that was hired by the State of Louisiana to distribute federal Road Home rebuilding dollars.

?. Current vulnerability to storm-related flooding. The Army Corps of Engineers continues work to provide protection from a storm surge that has a 1 percent chance of occurring any given year. However, Katrina was a stronger storm than the system under construction is designed to protect against. Because no updated indicators exist on land loss, coastal restoration and mitigation of flood risk due to human engineering, tracking recovery is, at best, challenging.

Davida Finger is a social justice lawyer and clinical professor at Loyola University New Orleans.
Bill Quigley
is a human rights lawyer on leave from Loyola now serving as legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. A version of this article with sources is available if you write to the authors c/o

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Katrina Anniversary Nears, and Should Evoke Truths, Both Ugly and Ennobling

As we approach the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, Americans should take the opportunity to learn not only the familiar lessons about economic and racial injustice, but also to embrace the responsibilities these lessons oblige.

Read the whole article here.