Wednesday, August 29, 2007

the very heart of America itself

New Orleans City Councilwoman Shelley Midura penned the following to W.

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.



Sincerely,

Shelley Midura
New Orleans City Councilmember
District A

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

councilwoman. How much debris have you picked up. How many neighborhoods have you patrolled.
12 billion is ALOT of money. Lets put it in perspective.That is 600,000 cars at $20000 a car. Or 2.4 million people could get a degree at a local college. How long does the gov't need to bankroll a place. How much is enough and what about the rest of the country. How much of your salary have you donated. How many of the homeless have slept on your couch. In fact how is your house. bet it wasn't flooded.

judyb said...

one more question: why do people post anonymously?

scott said...

oh be honest with you I don't have a google account and don't have a web page. but I'm Scott. I have seen how the gov't wastes money and question where has 12billion gone. It is an unsubstianable position of what have people got for 12,000,000,000 dollars. To put that in perspective how many people could you employ for that much. well lets see. we're going to pay them $12 an hour. Not great but a better wage than most people make. Lets work them for one year. For 12 BILLION you could employ 500,000 people give or take. That is the big isssue and that is only 12 billion not the 121 billion promised. This is the reality of the situation. I ask you again how much money is enough? Where has it gone?

one citizen said...

I have some comments about your letter.
* Completely fix the federally managed levees.
Where did the funds go that were supposed to mantain the leeves?

* Fully fund our expertly crafted recovery plan
Could you do a link to that plan?
* Give New Orleans all that you have promised to Baghdad - schools, hospitals, infrastructure, security, and basic services
I don't know where to begin on that one. Go on a Junket to Iraq.N.O. will be heaven on earth after that experience.

* Forgive the community disaster loans, as authorized by the new Congress
Why was it a loan and not a grant?And I wonder how much money was wasted passing legistlation to do that * could this be considered part of the "red tape"
* 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
Florida needed a Czar for Andrew, San. Fran. needed one for the earthquake. We need a bridge czar also.(not very funny but you see my point)And of course what we need is another politican.
* Restore our coast and wetlands
Wonder if the local zoning city council had anything to do with that. After all you can't build without a permit.
* Work with Congress to reform the Stafford Act
(I had to look it up) Didn't congress pass the stafford act? Why reform it?Don't tell me. Congress passed a bad piece of legslation. Wonder how much pork was in it?
* Cut the bureaucratic red tape
where does all this tape come from? The gov't...So the gov't is going to cut the tape that it made in the first place which will lead to more red tape which then the gov't will then cut. MORE GOV'T=MORE RED TAPE.

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.

All the legislation in the world is no substitute for good honest work.
Fully restoring New Orleans to its formerly unique and permanent place in American culture is this nation's greatest domestic challenge
New Orleans in all its glory is why we got in the situation that happened. Urban sprawl is what destroyed the wetlands. Poor local planning is why N.O. has become more and more exposed to the Ocean.
Does the White House(not much love for it either) need to micromanage planning and the recovery efforts. If so then why have a local gov't.?

And lastly the new hires.
Ethics Board. gov't would never be unethical would they? Remember a used car salesmen has a better rep than a congressman.
Super of Education. Try just hiring teachers.You know the people who are actually in the classroom teaching.

Maybe I'm alittle bit hard on you but you are an elected offical. When you are critical of the government you should be critical of yourself because local gov't is responsible "locally" You can't say that you weren't aware of leeve problems. I've watched Discovery channel programs on the New Orleans hurricane issue for years.It's like a San Fran. official saying what fault line? New Orleans was headed for disaster and every year the gov't breathed a sigh of relief and fixed nothing.

judyb said...

From alternet.org .....most federal money -- about two-thirds -- was quickly spent for short-term needs like debris removal and Coast Guard rescue. As says Stanley Czerwinski of the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm
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.

Here's a little recap from NPR

judyb said...

ONE CITIZEN:
one citizen said...
I have some comments about your letter.
* Completely fix the federally managed levees.
Where did the funds go that were supposed to mantain the leeves?


* Fully fund our expertly crafted recovery plan
Could you do a link to that plan?


here you go


* Forgive the community disaster loans, as authorized by the new Congress
Why was it a loan and not a grant?

We'd like that answer ourselves More discussion here

* Restore our coast and wetlands
Wonder if the local zoning city council had anything to do with that. After all you can't build without a permit.


This involves big oil's cooperation.
We know that's not going to happen in this lifetime. It's mainly because of them and the
COE trying to control the Mississippi River that the wetlands are dying. If you haven't seen it, rent Hurricane on the Bayou.

Does the White House(not much love for it either) need to micromanage planning and the recovery efforts. If so then why have a local gov't.?
The government everywhere is the culprit.
In NOLA, it's the pitiful excuse for leadership, well the same thing for the state of Louisiana.
Little by little, the city is coming back. But the New Orleans' populace has got to elect a REAL leader
and not vote for someone because of their skin color.

You make excellent points. Here's contact info for Shelley Midura
1300 Perdido Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
Phone: (504) 658-1010
fax: (504) 658-1016