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Gulf Coast recovery efforts over the past year and a half have illuminated the fragmented nature of federal emergency benefits for everything from health care and food to housing and direct assistance programs.

Congress will continue hearings tomorrow to discuss these issues; the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery will meet in D.C., and the House Small Business Committee will take advantage of the recess to hold a field hearing in New Orleans.

Yet we cannot wait much longer for the federal government to take serious action to strengthen the rebuilding process. Center for American Progress Senior Fellow John Halpin issued a report last year entitled “Katrina and the Common Good” arguing that the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was profoundly disturbing and broke faith with the belief that the government should serve the common good and ensure the protection, prosperity, and opportunity of all people.

Congressional hearings occur periodically to raise these issues, but we are still in need of a serious national discussion to ensure that a calamity of this magnitude is better handled in the future and that the arduous recovery process is sustained going forward.

State and local officials and citizens should have primary responsibility and accountability for driving the current rebuilding process, but as with any massive reconstruction effort, they need the nation’s help. And if we as a nation are going to ensure that we are better prepared next time disaster hits, we will have to enact reform on a federal level.

Halpin offers several suggestions for national action to help ensure better preparedness and recovery capacity for natural disasters or attacks, including recommendations to:

  • Implement an effective emergency public health response system
  • Invest more in disaster and climate change preparedness and planning
  • Streamline federal and state relief benefits and break the logjam on federal funds
  • Redouble our commitment to building and protecting critical infrastructure
  • Create a rapid response housing voucher program to better shelter people during and after emergencies
  • Ensure federal assistance in returning displaced children to school and finding teachers for devastated school districts
  • Finance preparedness efforts through offsets in other areas, particularly from counterproductive spending and unfair tax policies
  • Create an independent Federal Disaster Graft Protection Commission to ensure that taxpayer funds are not abused in any major disaster.

It’s time now for us to begin rectifying the massive failures of vision and competency that continue to adversely affect hundreds of thousands of residents in the Gulf region. These recommendations are a good place to start.

Read the full report:

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