Image from Greg Peters.
Letter from our next mayor:
An open letter to President George W. Bush:
August 28, 2007
Dear Mr. President:
Thank you for visiting New Orleans for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the worst federal levee-failure disaster in United States history followed by the worst federal disaster response in United States history. We’re also grateful for the $116 billion federal allocation for the Gulf Coast. That $116 billion has served you well, as your spokesmen often cite it as an indicator of your dedication to our recovery. But, it hasn’t served us as well -- it’s not enough, it’s been given grudgingly, and only after our elected officials have had to fight for it. So I feel I must correct the record about you and your administration’s dedication to our recovery and implore you to take action to make things better.
Indeed, you have allocated $116 billion for the Gulf Coast, but that number is misleading. According to the Brookings Institute's most recent Katrina Index report, at least $75 billion of it was for immediate post-storm relief. Thus only 35% of the total federal dollars allocated is for actual recovery and reconstruction. And of that recovery and reconstruction allocation, only 42% has actually been spent. In fact, while your administration touts "$116 billion" as the amount you have sent to the entire area affected by Katrina and the levee failures, the actual long term recovery dollar amount is only $14.6 billion. This amount is a mere 12% of the entire federal allocation of dollars, billions of which went to corporations such as Halliburton for immediate post-storm cleanup work, instead of to local businesses. Contrast that to the $20.9 billion on infrastructure for Iraq that the Wall Street Journal reported in May 2006 that you have spent, and it’s an astonishing 42% more than you have spent on infrastructure for the post-Katrina Gulf region. The American citizens of the Gulf region do not understand why the federal obligation to rebuilding Iraq is greater than it is for America's Gulf coast, and more specifically for New Orleans.
New Orleans has more challenges and fewer resources than we've ever had in my lifetime in the City of New Orleans. Yet, other than FEMA repair reimbursements, the only direct federal assistance this city has received from you has been two community disaster loans that you are demanding be paid back even though no other city government has had to pay back a these types of loans for as long as our research can determine (at least since the 70’s). These loans are being used to balance the city budget to provide basic services to citizens who need far more than the pre-Katrina basics.
Despite this obvious contradiction, your administration blames local leadership for our continued need for federal assistance. But this argument is disingenuous, Mr. President. There are a host of tasks that only you and your administration can accomplish for our recovery. These are some concrete steps you can take to make good on your 2005 Jackson Square promise:
• Completely fix the federally managed levees
• Fully fund our expertly crafted recovery plan
• Give New Orleans all that you have promised to Baghdad - schools, hospitals, infrastructure, security, and basic services
• Forgive the community disaster loans, as authorized by the new Congress
• Appoint a recovery czar who works inside the White House that reports daily and directly to you and whose sole job is the recovery of New Orleans and the rest of the region
• Restore our coast and wetlands
• Work with Congress to reform the Stafford Act
• Cut the bureaucratic red tape
In turn Mr. President, the people of New Orleans are more than willing to do our part. We have already:
• Consolidated and reformed the state levee board system.
• Consolidated and reformed our property assessment system.
• Passed sweeping ethics reform legislation.
• Created an Ethics Review Board.
• Hired an Inspector General.
• Submitted a parish-wide recovery plan.
Much has changed in New Orleans for the better since the storm, and more progress is coming. Civic activism is at an all time high. For the first time in my lifetime, there is an actual reform movement in New Orleans driven by the people. "Best Practices" has become a City Council mantra. We have a new Ethics Board. Our incoming Inspector General, Robert Cerasoli, is considered one of the elite in the Inspector General world, as is our new Recovery Director Dr. Ed Blakely in that world and our Recovery School Superintendent Paul Vallas in the realm of public education. We are attracting the cream of the crop. Young people from around the country seeking to make a difference in their lives are moving to New Orleans to teach in public schools, provide community healthcare, build housing, work for nonprofits engaged in post-Katrina work, and, in general, do whatever they can for the recovery because they all know what I am not so sure that you know, mainly that what happens in New Orleans over the next few years says something about the very heart of America itself.
Mr. President, we are in fact doing our part locally in New Orleans despite contrary comments by your administration. Our intense civic activity and government reform initiatives are serious indicators of our local commitment to do our part for the recovery. But we are drowning in federal red tape. We are being nickel and dimed to death by your Federal Emergency Management Agency. We are resource-starved at the city level. The mission here is not accomplished. What we need is Presidential leadership, not just another speech filled with empty promises. Our recovery's success, struggle, or failure will be intimately woven into your legacy, for better or worse. What Americans think about America is deeply affected by how this country rises to national challenges, none more significant than post-Katrina New Orleans. Fully restoring New Orleans to its formerly unique and permanent place in American culture is this nation's greatest domestic challenge. Your leadership of our country through this difficult time will serve as an American character lesson for future generations.
New Orleans City Councilmember
NEW ORLEANS, LA – In an open letter to President Bush, Councilmember Shelley Midura responded to the assertion by Recovery Chairman Donald Powell that the federal government is doing everything it can and that the problem is with local leadership. In her letter she challenged the “$116 billion” allocation as “misleading” and further implored President Bush to assert a larger leadership role in the recovery of New Orleans and the Gulf region on the eve of his visit to New Orleans for the 2nd Katrina anniversary.
“Mr. President, we are in fact doing our part locally in New Orleans despite contrary comments by your administration,” said Councilmember Midura. “Our intense civic activity and government reform initiatives are serious indicators of our local commitment to do our part for the recovery. But we are drowning in federal red tape. We are being nickel and dimed to death by your Federal Emergency Management Agency. We are resource starved at the city level. The mission here is not accomplished. What we need is Presidential leadership, not just another speech filled with empty promises.”
The Bush administration has frequently argued that their $116 billion allocation is evidence of their commitment to the recovery of the Gulf region. But further analysis in Councilmember Midura’s letter indicates that the actual number of dollars spent on long term recovery for the entire Gulf region is closer to $14.7 billion, less than 13% of the entire federal allocation. In contrast the Bush administration has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for Iraq, of which $20.6 billion has been spent on recovery and infrastructure – over 42% more than has been spent on recovery for the Gulf region of the United States for our nation’s greatest natural disaster.
“Our recovery's success, struggle, or failure will be intimately woven into your legacy, for better or worse,” said Midura. “What Americans think about America is deeply affected by how this country rises to national challenges, none more significant than post-Katrina New Orleans. Fully restoring New Orleans to its formerly unique and permanent place in American culture is this nation's greatest domestic challenge. Your leadership of our country through this difficult time will serve as an American character lesson for future generations.”
KATRINA: TWO YEARS LATER
• 22% or $7 billion of FEMA’s 2005 disaster relief budget was spent on administrative costs, not rebuilding(Institute for Southern Studies)
• The figure used consistently by the Bush administration when discussing the amount of federal dollars allocated to Gulf Coast recovery is $116 billion. Of that amount, only 30% or $35 billion goes to long-term recovery projects (Jeffrey Buchanan, RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights)
• Of that $35 billion, less than 42% has been spent to date(RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights)
• The City of New Orleans has received approximately $187 million from FEMA and $150 million in Community Disaster Loans (City of New Orleans)
2. LEVEE REPAIR
• Currently, the United States Army Corps of Engineers has spent only 20 percent of the $8.4 billion allocated for New Orleans levee repair (Institute for Southern Studies)
3. COASTAL RESTORATION
• Since 1932, nearly 600 square miles of protective wetlands surrounding New Orleans have been lost (Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation)
• 30 square miles of these wetlands were lost since the US Army Corps of Engineers built the MRGO (Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation)
• 80 square miles of these wetlands were lost during Hurricane Katrina (Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation)
• The cumulative impact of these lost wetlands is a New Orleans with no natural protection against storm surges from tropical storms and hurricanes (Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation)
4. ECONOMY AND JOBS
• Two contracts of the 140 FEMA awarded for travel trailers, pre-fabricated homes, and other items, went to Louisiana and accounted for less than half of 1 percent of the $1.6 billion total (Times Picayune, Bill Walsh, “Fema Isn’t Hiring Louisiana Companies, Workers; Out-of State Firms Get Most of Business”, Washington bureau)
• According to Senator Carl Levin, D-Mich., 75 Louisiana electricians working at the Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse are out of a job as Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, now holds the contract (Bill Walsh)
• Four contracts, let by the US Army Corps of Engineers, for removing debris created by Katrina, worth a total of $2 billion with an option for $500 million more, went to Florida, Minnesota, and California (Bill Walsh)
• US Army Corps of Engineers contracts specified that the award process should give preference to local companies hit hardest by the storms (Bill Walsh)
• Although $4.5 billion in Gulf Opportunity Zone projects have been approved in Louisiana, only 1 is located in New Orleans. Strangely, a 10-unit luxury condo development in Tuscaloosa, Alabama (approximately 4 hours from the coast) is the recipient of GO Zone tax breaks (Institute for Southern Studies)
• The Small Business Administration finished processing loan applications for Katrina-impacted businesses in May of 2007, 21 months after the storm (Institute for Southern Studies)
• Federal agencies claimed that 259 contracts went to Louisiana small businesses but were later discovered to have gone to big companies or ineligible recipients (Institute for Southern Studies)
5. SPENDING IN IRAQ
• The federal government has currently spent over $455 billion on the war in Iraq (MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olberman, August 3, 2007 and www.nationalpriorities.org ) vs. $116 billion for the Gulf region’s recovery.
• The Bush Administration has spent $20.9 billion to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure (Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2006) as compared with the $8.4 billion allocated for New Orleans levee repair (Institute for Southern Studies)
• Congress has authorized $44 billion in funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction projects in Iraq, yet Bush has threatened to veto due to cost the $21 billion water resources bill being considered by Congress of which only $1.9 billion would be devoted to restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands (Institute for Southern Studies and www.voanew.com )
• USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has created a $4 million program to save Iraq’s Mesopatamian Marshlands (The Iraq Foundation)
Any doubt she should be our next mayor?