FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Where Did the Katrina Money Go?

by JEFFREY BUCHANAN And CHRIS KROMM

When pressed on the slow pace of recovery
in the Gulf Coast, President Bush insists the federal government
has fulfilled its promise to rebuild the region. The proof, he
says, is in the big check the federal government signed to underwrite
the recovery — allegedly more than $116 billion. But residents
of the still-devastated Gulf Coast are left wondering whether
the check bounced.

“$116 billion is not a
useful number,” says Stanley Czerwinski of the Government
Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm.

For starters, most federal
money — about two-thirds — was quickly spent for short-term
needs like debris removal and Coast Guard rescue. As Czerwinski
explains, “There is a significant difference between responding
to an emergency and rebuilding post-disaster.”

That has left little money
for long-term Gulf Coast recovery projects. Although it’s tricky
to unravel the maze of federal reports, our best estimate of
agency data is that only $35 billion has been appropriated for
long-term rebuilding.

Even worse, less than 42 percent
of the money set aside has even been spent, much less gotten
to those most in need. For example:

Washington set aside $16.7
billion for Community Development Block Grants, one of the two
biggest sources of rebuilding funds, especially for housing.
But as of March 2007, only $1 billion — just 6 percent — had
been spent, almost all of it in Mississippi. Following bad publicity,
HUD spent another $3.8 billion on the program between March and
July, leaving 70 percent of the funds still unused.

The other major source of rebuilding
help was supposed to be FEMA’s Public Assistance Program. But
of the $8.2 billion earmarked, only $3.4 billion was meant for
nonemergency projects like fixing up schools and hospitals.

Louisiana officials recently
testified that FEMA has also “low-balled” project costs,
underestimating the true expenses by a factor of four or five.
For example, for 11 Louisiana rebuilding projects, the lowest
bids came to $5.5 million — but FEMA approved only $1.9 million.

After the failure of federal
levees flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses.
But as of July 2007, less than 20 percent of the funds have been
spent, even as the Corps admits that levee repair won’t be completed
until as late as 2011.

The fact that, two years later,
most federal Katrina funds remain bottled up in bureaucracy is
especially shocking considering that the amounts Washington allocated
come nowhere near the anticipated costs of Gulf rebuilding.

For example, the $3.4 billion
FEMA has available to recover local public infrastructure would
only cover about one-eighth of the damage suffered in Louisiana
alone. But this money is spread across five states — Alabama,
Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas — and covers damage
from three 2005 hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Congress has acted on some
of the money holdups, like changing a requirement in the Stafford
Act that mandates local governments pay 10 percent of rebuilding
projects up front before receiving federal aid. The Bush administration
had refused to waive the rule — like it did for New York after
9/11 — grounding countless projects. The effect of the rule
was particularly devastating in the hardest-hit places like Mississippi’s
Hancock County, where communities lost most of their tax base
after the storms.

Many in Washington claim that
state and local governments are to blame: The money’s there,
they say, but the locals just aren’t using it. And it’s true
that there have been problems below the federal level. For example,
Louisiana’s “Road Home” program — created by Congress
but run by the state — has been so poorly managed that 18 months
after the storms only 630 homeowners had received checks. Closings
have sped up since then, but administrators admit many won’t
see money until 2008, if at all — the program is facing a projected
$3 billion shortfall.

But the White House and Congress
have done little to exercise oversight of these federally backed
programs, much less step in to remove red tape and make sure
taxpayer money gets to its intended destination.

This is especially true when
it comes to tax breaks and rebuilding contracts. Included in
the $116 billion figure is $3.5 billion in tax breaks to jump-start
business in Gulf Opportunity Zones — “GO Zones” —
across 91 parishes and counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
But many of the breaks have been of questionable benefit to Katrina
survivors, like a $1 million deal to build 10 luxury condos next
to the University of Alabama football stadium — four hours from
the Gulf Coast.

Federal contracts for rebuilding
and recovery have also been marked by scandal, fraud and abuse.
An August 2006 study by the office of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.,
identified 19 contracts worth $8.75 billion that experienced
“significant overcharges, wasteful spending or mismanagement.”

For thousands of Gulf residents,
the end result is that federal support for recovery after Katrina’s
devastation has been insufficient, too slow and hasn’t gotten
to those most in need.

“Where did it go?”
says Tanya Harris of ACORN in New Orleans when asked about the
$116 billion. “Tell me. Where did it go?”

Jeffrey Buchanan is communications officer with the
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial
Center for Human Rights
.

Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute
for Southern Studies
. This report was part of ISS’s “Blue
Print for Gulf Renewal
“.

Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
Charles R. Larson
A Review of Mary Roach’s “Grunt”
David Yearsley
Stuck in Houston on the Cusp of the Apocalypse
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail