In New Orleans, 2007 begins much the same way 2006 did, with large swaths of the city still wrecked and abandoned after Hurricane Katrina, and local officials promising that better days lie just ahead.
All that’s missing is President Bush to drop in for a photo op.
Sixteen months after Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and killed more than 1,300 people, less than half of the pre-storm population of nearly half a million has returned.
About 80,000 homes in Orleans Parish were damaged, and most remain that way, creating a panorama of blight in the hardest-hit areas, which were largely poor and working-class neighborhoods.
Many businesses remain closed or struggle to survive. The landmark French Quarter restaurant Antoine’s, run by the same family since 1840, said last week its business was down 60 percent from pre-Katrina and its future in doubt.
Franks goes on to discuss the “Road Home” project, which is a state-administered program to distribute $7.5 billion in federal money to people whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Katrina. As of this week the program had distributed money to only 97 out of 90,000 homeowners who have applied. Louisiana officials blame Congress, which took its sweet time — ten months — to allocate the money. But there are problems at the state level as well, as this blogger explains. A contractor chosen to distribute the money seems to, um, not be performing up to expectations. The Louisiana House and Senate have passed two resolutions to terminate the contract. Yet the contract remains in effect.
Mayor Ray Nagin also continues to turn in an underwhelming performance. Franks says he “finally appointed a czar to oversee the city’s recovery effort” last month.
Sixteen months have passed since the apocalyptic flood that followed Hurricane Katrina. More than 13,000 residents who were displaced by the storm are still living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Another 100,000 to 200,000 evacuees — most of whom want to return home — are scattered throughout the United States.
The undeniable neglect of this population fuels the suspicion among the poor and the black, who constitute a majority of the evacuees, that the city is being handed over to the well-to-do and the white.
If you talk to public officials, you will hear about billions of dollars in aid being funneled through this program or that. The maze of bureaucratic initiatives is dizzying. But when you talk to the people most in need of help — the poor, the elderly, the disabled, the children — you will find in most cases that the help is not reaching them. There is no massive effort, no master plan, to bring back the people who were driven from the city and left destitute by Katrina.
Only the federal government could finance such an effort. Neither the city of New Orleans nor the state of Louisiana has anywhere near the kind of money that would be required. “You’ve got a lot of people who don’t have a place to stay,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco told me in an interview on Friday, “and they’re spread all over creation.”…
… The simple fact is that no one at any level of government, city, state or federal, has shown the leadership that was needed in response to this astounding tragedy.
Herbert writes that the exiled poor and black of New Orleans are increasingly convinced the federal government wants to prevent them from returning to New Orleans. This reminded me of Riverbend’s recent post, in which she said Iraqis are certain the many U.S. blunders in Iraq were actually part of a plan to destroy Iraq. Maybe, but I still think you really cannot overestimate the colossal incompetence and corruption of the Bush Regime.
Yet there are poor people in New Orleans. They aren’t necessarily the same poor who lived there before Katrina, but they’re there. Many are illegal immigrants who were lured to New Orleans, often by federal contractors, to do the hard cleanup work for slave wages so the contractors can pocket more of our tax dollars. And now the city’s fragile health care infrastructure is straining to care for a boom of Latino babies being born to mothers who have no health insurance.
Thus, the city’s former deep poverty is being replaced by deeper poverty.
Instead of using federal money for projects that would have not only rebuilt the city but would also have provided jobs with reasonable pay to the devastated residents — money that by now would be flowing generously through New Orleans retailers and other businesses — tax money is disappearing into the pockets of contractors and subcontractors. And the underground labor pool the contractors are exploiting may be tomorrow’s wretchedly poor residents, clinging to subsistence at the edge of a rich nation.