The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will travel to New Orleans today for a hearing on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: Outstanding Need, Slow Process. The hearing’s title says it all: recovery has been arduous and woefully inadequate for the citizens of the Gulf Coast.
The past year and a half of stalled efforts have shown that the structure of federal emergency benefits for everything from health care and food to housing and direct assistance programs is painfully fragmented. State and local officials and citizens should have primary responsibility and accountability for driving the rebuilding process, but as with any massive reconstruction effort, they need the nation’s help.
The Center for American Progress released a report on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina arguing that the rebuilding and renewal of the Gulf Coast must be seen as part of a collective, national project and not the sole responsibility of those immediately affected in the region.
The report, Katrina and the Common Good, offers suggestions for national action to help ensure better preparedness and recovery capacity for natural disasters or attacks:
- 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.
The Senate trip to the Gulf Coast is the perfect opportunity for Congress to prove its commitment to speeding the recovery process in New Orleans and streamlining our nation’s capacity to respond to natural disasters.
At the core of our national character is the belief that government should serve the common good and ensure protection, prosperity, and opportunity for all people. The federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was profoundly disturbing and broke faith with that belief. A hearing is a good place to start. But 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.
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