Thursday, August 30, 2007

Two Years After Katrina

By Rep. John Mizuno

I recently attended a briefing in New Orleans by Major General Hunt Downer, Asst. Adjutant General, Louisiana National Guard, to review recovery efforts in schools and communities two years after Hurricane Katrina.

Photo: South Carolina Rep. Robert Williams and I with kids from the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School.

On August 24th, I visited the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School for Science and Technology, located in the Ninth Ward. This community was totally covered by flood water, and it is difficult to imagine that they could have ever recovered. I was amazed that the students I met seemed so happy and filled with energy. Principal Doris Roche-Hicks explained that "We lost over 30 students and adults to Hurricane Katrina, but we never fail to remind our kids what they have."

The school was not originally a charter school, but after the hurricane, Principal Roche-Hicks realized that "charter" status was her only hope for a fast and efficient resurrection of the school. In 2006, King's charter was one of the first charters approved, and she scrambled to secure insurance, arrange transportation, and register students. Today, the school is running full staff, with 95% of her staff from pre-Katrina days. The most amazing fact to me is that all of her staff commutes from outside the district because none of them have been able to move back to their damaged homes.

Federal, state and local funding is bottle necked. The simple fact remains, two years after Katrina, funding appropriations are not getting to those in need. For example:

Congress set aside $16.7 billion for Community Development Block Grants. As of March 2007, only $1 billion has been spent, mostly in Mississippi. Following news reports of this holdup, HUD spent $3.8 billion on the program, but this still leaves 70% of the funds unused. Meanwhile 30,000 families remain scattered across the country in FEMA trailers.

FEMA earmarked $8.2 billion for public assistance, but only $3.4 billion is to be used for non-emergency projects like repairing schools and hospitals.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore storm defenses (i.e. the collapsed levees which were the cause of the flooding of New Orleans.) To date, only 20% of the funds have been used, and the Corps indicates that the levees may not be completely repaired until 2011.

Photo: This is a house checked by National Guard post-Katrina. The "1/8" left of the square identifies the unit which checked the house. The "0" above the square means no rescues were made. The "9/13" right of the square is the date the house was inspected in 2005. Note that there is no number below the square - that would have meant the number of bodies found. Some houses had numbers.

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