The Common Good

One year after Katrina, the federal government must renew its effort to make Americans safe at home.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security will meet tomorrow—one week after the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina—to discuss national emergency preparedness.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both of which battered the Gulf Coast last year, commentators across the political spectrum expressed shock and dismay at the collapse of our nation’s disaster preparedness and response apparatuses. Leaders on both sides of the aisle pledged to spend whatever was necessary to ensure that the levees would not fail in future storms, the displaced could return home, and the sick, elderly, and vulnerable would never again be left behind in abject poverty and neglect. President Bush declared that he would lead “one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen.”

One year later, that commitment has been replaced by frustration, confusion, and inertia. Dead bodies are still being recovered in destroyed homes. Hundreds of thousands of New Orleans area residents have yet to return. Entire blocks of the city and neighboring parishes remain scarred and unlivable. Crime and gang violence are on the rise. FEMA trailer parks and emerging tent cities dot the landscape. Federal funds for rebuilding have yet to arrive. Levee protection for the current hurricane season is uncertain. Ineptitude and malfeasance continue to plague the procurement process. Public institutions from courts and hospitals to water service and other utilities have imploded.

The wake of last year’s hurricane season continues. Last week the Center for American Progress released a report arguing that preparedness and recovery for natural disasters or attacks must build on the principle of the common good. As the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security meets tomorrow, they must begin taking necessary steps 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.

At the core of our national character is the belief that the government should serve the common good and ensure the protection, prosperity and opportunity of all people. The federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was profoundly disturbing and broke faith with that belief. It is time for the federal government to step up and renew its efforts to keep America safe from natural disasters and attacks.

Read the full report:

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