Kari Lydersen has been posting on Rooflines from New Orleans this week, offering first-person witness to the sorry plight of the city’s poor and the explosion in the homelessness rate just two months short of the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Despite the outpouring of many grass-roots organizations and advocacy groups, and the generous impulses of individual Americans to give of their time and effort to assist the afflicted of the Gulf region, however, the official response — from the federal government on down — has been woefully, even criminally, inadequate.
So when I read today’s New York Times editorial titled Mississippi’s Misplaced Priorities, I can’t help but channel Joseph Welsh’s characterization of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in regard to Mississippi officials’ plan to redirect a half-billion dollars in emergency Community Development Block Grant funds away from affordable rental housing toward redeveloping the port of Gulfport.
The Web site Facing South reported in September that the total amount the State of Mississippi sought to divert toward expanding the port is an eye-popping $600 million.
Last week, Facing South — which has been tracking the issue closely — reported that a dozen congress-members, including Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) signed a letter requesting that House Appropriations Chairman David Obey insert language into a current appropriations bill blocking Mississippi from diverting the money.
Seems like the state is bent on bringing back gambling and attracting cruise ships to the port. And at least one member of Mississippi’s congressional delegation — Democrat Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis — thinks it’s a fine idea to channel the cash toward the port project, claiming that it’s impossible to get builders into the area to do the housing redevelopment because of insurance problems. Taylor’s more pressing concern is apparently FEMA’s decision not to provide ice to disaster victims than whether Mississippians have a roof over their heads three years out from Katrina.
Sharon Garrison of the Mississippi Center for Justice was quoted by WTOK in Meridien, Miss., saying “The fact [is] that there are still ten thousand families in transitional housing, we have not rebuilt any rental housing with our block grant monies.”
Mississippi officials are trying to take advantage of loopholes created when Congress acted to use the CDBG program to distribute Katrina aid, modifying the law to require Gulf Coast states to use 50 percent rather than the original 70 percent of CDBG emergency monies for help to low- and moderate-income people.
Where’s the congressional oversight on the use of this money?
It’s been clear from the get-go that healing the communities caught in Katrina’s swath of destruction wasn’t a priority of the Bush administration.
But what’s the matter with the 110th Congress?
Note to Congress: We’re rounding the bend toward another election. When you head home to your districts to press the flesh at Fourth of July picnics, there ought to be some fireworks about your willingness to consign the suffering people of the Gulf Coast region to invisibility.
Maybe your constituents will have read of the testimony of Sherry-Lea Bloodworth, director of the Hancock County, Miss., housing authority, who, according to an account in the June 20 Clarion-Ledger
…wept as she described the frustration of trying to help displaced hurricane victims, including an elderly couple living in a shed.
She and other witnesses reminded lawmakers that Mississippi’s recovery is far from complete.
“We live with the fear that you have forgotten us because we are so far away,” Bloodworth said.
Will you demonstrate that you have not forgotten them?