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
“.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail