Wednesday, March 19, 2008

State of New Orleans Unmasks Federal Government's Priorities

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Over two and a half years ago a predicted hurricane hit New Orleans and Mississippi. More catastrophically, the levees guarding large parts of New Orleans from related flooding burst open. For those who care, what's the current state of things? You can find some good news and good times in New Orleans, despite the handicapped school system and increasing wealth disparities. There are stories of neighborhoods that are nearly 80% rebuilt. But they are in areas where residents had determination and, let's be honest here, private wealth and resources. Vast areas have been cleared of garbage and debris, including the Upper and Lower Ninth Wards. Thing is, the latter neighborhood still has more porches and open fields than houses. It's here and in other poorer areas that rebuilding is slow and no going. Why? Because the same government that allowed the levees to corrode and rupture is unsurprisingly sluggish in dispensing funds to local officials, citizens and organizations that need it. There are numerous reasons, but an article in USA Today highlights the federal government's rule that emergency disaster funding be granted on the condition that the state requesting and/or city requesting it be able to give 10% of the request up front. Now this was waived for governments of previous natural disasters, including Florida's Hurricane Andrew. But not New Orleans. The city currently has a homeless rate around 400% of most major U.S. cities (1 in 25 compared to 1 in 100). And YES, many are waiting for homes to be rebuilt or at least the money for raw materials needed to get the process going themselves.

Here's our beef. How can the same government that's raining money on major corporations through "give-away" loans, paying astronomical rates for contract services in Iraq and quietly spending inordinate amounts of dinero on space exploration deny money to American citizens whose only crime was being poor or middle class or "just making it" when Hurricane Katrina blew into their neck of the woods? What makes it even worse is that our government's negligence of the structure designed to protect against flooding collapsed. That's not natural. That's what you call a man made disaster. (Funds have gone toward fixing the levees, but it's largely a case of too much, too late.) Seems the federal government through their maneuvering and determination find money for when officials decide to find money. There is little campaign funding or back end profit to be had in simply helping people get economically and socially back on their feet or on at least their knees. The decision for many in New Orleans is "find it yourself." Or rather, go find somewhere else to be ignored.

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