Friday, June 6, 2008


Wow. There are evidently people who believe that Katrina victims are freeloaders who got more than enough help and should damn well have fixed their city by now. We're not just talking about the predictable sample of people who were inclined to take advantage of the nation's sympathy for their own profit. We're talking about anyone who was hit by Katrina and dares to treat it as anything worse than a minor speedbump in their lives.

The articles I find on it are old, mainly because Katrina doesn't even really get talked about anymore. We lose interest in our tragedies rather quickly these days. This article was... something special.

In the weeks after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, people across the country opened their wallets, homes and hearts to the victims. But three months after thousands of evacuees arrived in Georgia, some attitudes have shifted from compassion to something very different.

For Anna Corley, a 39-year-old communications worker from East Point, the change in attitude occurred while she was watching a television interview with a female evacuee. The woman was living in a Georgia hotel, in a room paid for by taxpayers, and complaining she wasn't getting enough help.

With that, Corley — who had donated clothes and money, and dropped off spaghetti and tomato sauce at a supermarket bin — changed her mind.

"Come on, people," Corley said. "Three months and they can't find a place to live? Oh, wait, they want to see how long Uncle Sugar will pay for it. How long did they think the gravy train ran? Have some self-respect and pride."
Now, I'm sure that people who read my blog are (for the most part) pretty well aware of why this is utter bullshit. But in case you aren't, here's news for you: a bunch of aid was hardcore mismanaged and to top it off there just plain wasn't enough for everybody. First off, whether there was enough.

Katrina Aid Program is $9 Billion Short. (from May 2007)

More than 20 months after the Katrina catastrophe, tens of thousands of houses remain vacant, in part because of administrative delays in the aid program, the largest single source of direct federal help for homeowners. To date, only 16,000 of 130,000 applicants have received money.

And to think, Corley (mentioned above) was pissed that they hadn't rebuilt their lives in three months! That they hadn't rebuilt their homes and communities in a matter of months. Never mind that building a house alone can take longer than that, and never mind that thousands of people were all trying to rebuild at the same time. And never mind that people were planning on money that didn't come. As they're so often told, they need to "get over it."

Also, while we're all breathing a sigh of relief that Myanmar's junta is finally letting in foreign aid, let's remember that the USA wasn't exactly great about letting in similar help during Katrina either. What the fuck, you ask? Most Katrina Aid from Overseas Went Unclaimed (from April 2007).

Allies offered $854 million in cash and in oil that was to be sold for cash. But only $40 million has been used so far for disaster victims or reconstruction, according to U.S. officials and contractors. Most of the aid went uncollected, including $400 million worth of oil. Some offers were withdrawn or redirected to private groups such as the Red Cross. The rest has been delayed by red tape and bureaucratic limits on how it can be spent.


The struggle to apply foreign aid in the aftermath of the hurricane, which has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $125 billion so far, is another reminder of the federal government's difficulty leading the recovery. Reports of government waste and delays or denials of assistance have surfaced repeatedly since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck in 2005.

Administration officials acknowledged in February 2006 that they were ill prepared to coordinate and distribute foreign aid and that only about half the $126 million received had been put to use. Now, 20 months after Katrina, newly released documents and interviews make clear the magnitude of the troubles.

And while television sets worldwide showed images of New Orleans residents begging to be rescued from rooftops as floodwaters rose, U.S. officials turned down countless offers of allied troops and search-and-rescue teams. The most common responses: "sent letter of thanks" and "will keep offer on hand," the new documents show.

Overall, the United States declined 54 of 77 recorded aid offers from three of its staunchest allies: Canada, Britain, and Israel, according to a 40-page State Department table of the offers that had been received as of January 2006.

Hell, even Cuba offered to help. No really. We told them no, of course. We don't need help from those fucking *spit* Communists.

But this is all okay if we can just make sure the money that we've got (from acceptable domestic sources, at least) goes toward helping the victims. We can make do, and we can make the best of what we've got. Or we can get new condos in Tuscaloosa. Here's where the mismanagement comes in.

Katrina Aid Goes Toward Football Condos (Also from April 2007)

With large swaths of the Gulf Coast still in ruins from Hurricane Katrina, rich federal tax breaks designed to spur rebuilding are flowing hundreds of miles inland to investors who are buying up luxury condos near the University of Alabama's football stadium.

About 10 condominium projects are going up in and around Tuscaloosa, and builders are asking up to $1 million for units with granite countertops, king-size bathtubs and 'Bama decor, including crimson couches and Bear Bryant wall art.

While many of the buyers are Crimson Tide alumni or ardent football fans not entitled to any special Katrina-related tax breaks, many others are real estate investors who are purchasing the condos with plans to rent them out.

And they intend to take full advantage of the generous tax benefits available to investors under the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, or GO Zone, according to Associated Press interviews with buyers and real estate officials.

The GO Zone contains a variety of tax breaks designed to stimulate construction in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. It offers tax-free bonds to developers to finance big commercial projects like shopping centers or hotels. It also allows real estate investors who buy condos or other properties in the GO Zone to take accelerated depreciation on their purchases when they file their taxes.

The GO Zone was drawn to include the Tuscaloosa area even though it is about 200 miles from the coast and got only heavy rain and scattered wind damage from Katrina.

The condo deals are perfectly legal, and the tax breaks do not take money away from Katrina victims closer to the coast because the depreciation is wide open, with no limits per state.

But the tax breaks are galling to some community leaders, especially when red tape and disorganization have stymied the rebuilding in some of the devastated coastal areas.

"The GO Zone extends so damn far, but the people who need it the most can't take advantage of it," said John Harral, a lawyer in hard-hit Gulfport, Miss.

"It is a joke," said Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate, who has nevertheless used GO Zone tax breaks on projects that include a new hotel and a restaurant. "It was supposed to be about getting people ... to put housing in New Orleans, Louisiana, or Biloxi, Mississippi. It was not about condos in Tuscaloosa."

Look at this shit and tell me that Katrina victims have had all the help they could possibly hope for, and that they need to "get over it." It seems like every few months we hear some new and horrific setback in rebuilding the area hit. And yet, despite the fact that they haven't been able to get things going again, they're being asked to "suck it up," and are even now (in many cases) being required to pay back the assistance they were given. WTF again, you ask? Here's where we get to even more mismanagement of aid money.

Katrina Victims May Have to Repay Money. (March 2008)

A private contractor under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims says that in the rush to deliver aid to homeowners in need some people got too much. Now it wants to hire a separate company to collect millions in grant overpayments.


Brann pointed out that 5,000 collections cases would represent a 4-percent error rate for the Road Home that is "quite good for large federal programs."

Frank Silvestri, co-chair of the Citizen's Road Home Action Team, a group that formed out of frustrations with ICF, sees it far differently.

"They want people to pay for their incompetence and their mistakes. What they need to be is aggressive about finding the underpayments," he said. "People relied, to their detriment, on their (ICFs) expertise and rebuilt their houses and now they want to squeeze this money back out of them."


Melanie Ehrlich, co-chair of Citizen's Road Home Action Team, which has documented Road Home cases that appear littered with mistakes, said she had no confidence that ICF had correctly calculated overpayments. She charged that the company was more likely using collections as retribution against people who had appealed their award amounts in effort to get the aid they deserved.

I'll admit up front that I haven't emptied my pocketbook for the effort to rebuild, but for the gods' sake, at least I'm not blaming the victims when the odds have been stacked against so many people. Even my love of ironic payback couldn't compel me to hope that folks like Corley find themselves on the receiving end of shit like this. But I will say this... I wouldn't grieve too hard over 'em. Call that my failing of charity.

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