Friday, August 24, 2007

Two Years After Katrina, Billions in Relief Funds Are Missing

From AlterNet:

* 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.


Many in Washington claim that state and local governments are to blame: The money's there, they say, but the locals just aren't using it. And it's true that there have been problems below the federal level. For example, Louisiana's "Road Home" program -- created by Congress but run by the state -- has been so poorly managed that 18 months after the storms only 630 homeowners had received checks. Closings have sped up since then, but administrators admit many won't see money until 2008, if at all -- the program is facing a projected $3 billion shortfall.

But the White House and Congress have done little to exercise oversight of these federally backed programs, much less step in to remove red tape and make sure taxpayer money gets to its intended destination.

More here.

This story, about how badly the feds are handling their reconstruction responsibilities, is in its own way just as devastating as the story about how FEMA royally screwed up rescue and relief operations back in 2005. Unfortunately, because its slowly unfolding nature this one's getting less coverage. I really wonder how much Americans know about this massive fuckover going on down here.

And make no mistake about it: this is a massive fuckover. I included that second excerpt because I'm so fucking sick of hearing people argue over whose fault it all is. Republicans want it to be Louisiana's fault because the state is still run by Democrats; Democrats want the reverse for obvious reasons, although we've got a Donkey Butt Congress now, so I don't see how they can escape blame entirely. Nonetheless, President Bush, as head of the executive branch, is most responsible for executing the laws Congress has passed, and he's doing his usual horrible job. Look, there is indeed mismanagement and corruption here Louisiana. It's traditional, which is what gives the right wing their "in" for muddying the overall debate--"well, you know those people down there probably just pocketed all those billions." But Louisiana corruption is usually chump change compared to the amount of money we're talking about here--I don't think power brokers down here are competent enough to steal such vast sums of cash. And it's Federal cash that's being mismanaged. It's their goddamned job to make sure that doesn't happen.

America just ain't what it used to be.