Recently Released Study on Katrina Recovery Shows Uneven
by Keith Burton - GCN 4/25/07
A report on the progress of the Katrina recovery in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama issued by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Rockefeller Institute of Government outlines a recovery of uneven and often stalled progress.
The report shows that state and federal bureaucracies have actually been worsening the recovery in many ways and outlines the lack of effectiveness leaders have been in making decisions. The lengthy report also goes into how the area's business and economic infrastructure was damaged; and how quickly it has been able to get state and federal aid.
GulfCoastNews.com has been closely reporting on the progress of the recovery since the hurricane hit the region on August 29, 2005. Throughout the period, GCN has observed that governing officials and the major local media have not been fully honest with the public regarding the progress of the recovery, often claiming the situation is better than it really is.
What is at stake are the political and business futures of the individuals and organizations, and the confidence of the public to reinvest their lives and the the lives of their families in the regions affected. In some areas, improvements have been significant since the hurricane. But in every community affected by the storm, serious and long term problems remain and many still completely unaddressed.
According to the report, "the areas under study are: Cameron Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish, Jefferson Parish, Kenner, Lake Charles, New Orleans, St. Bernard Parish, and St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana; Hancock County (Bay St. Louis and Waveland), Harrison County (Biloxi and Gulfport), Hattiesburg, Jackson, Jackson County (Pascagoula), and Laurel in Mississippi; and Bayou La Batre, Gulf Shores, and Mobile in Alabama.
Quoting from the study:
"This study has both qualitative and quantitative elements and the 15 field researchers involved all used the same questionnaire in gathering their information. For three months, the researchers fanned out across these communities and collected data through interviews, official reports, Internet databases, and media accounts."
As a result of the nature of how the researchers gathered their information, the accuracy of the information is flawed as local media reports and government officials are not neutral in their comments on what is actually happening in their communities. Local media have been consistently inaccurate on many issues regarding the Katrina recovery. Between officials and the media's penchant for "rose-colored glasses" reporting on Katrina, the reality of the Katrina "recovery" is not a picture that has been properly defined. It is actually worse in many communities than the picture the report conveys.
The report does, however, show that the major issues of affordable housing, the bungling of bureaucracies, and the slow performance of programs to date, are among the difficulties contributing to the problems the region is experiencing.
Quoting from the report:
"What is not-so-good are the issues still confounding both states — housing, insurance, infrastructure, and the 10 percent FEMA match requirement. Thousands of Louisianans and Mississippians remain stranded in FEMA travel trailers. The much-vaunted Katrina cottages have yet to materialize in an appreciable numbers, and housing rebuilding efforts have become mired in the morass that is skyrocketing insurance premiums, minimal insurance payouts, FEMA elevation standards, rising construction costs, and indecision on the part of residents about how to move forward.
Further, neither state’s federal homeowner aid program has provided the hoped-for spark to rebuilding efforts. In Mississippi’s case, one could argue that the number of people helped by the Homeowners Assistance Grant Program was simply too small to make much difference. By design, the grants were designated only for people who lived outside of the federal flood plain. Thus, many of those most in need were not eligible to apply."
The 10-percent FEMA match requirement is among the most irksome issues for communities seeking to recover. If the city does not have the money to pay for their match, they cannot drawdown the federal aid to help them recover. Most of the cities and counties in the region were operating with limited funds prior to the hurricane and do not have excess money, even after cutting budgets and often personnel, to find the cash. As a result, most of the federal aid has yet to reach the area. While Congress has authorized billions for aid, that does not mean the money has been spent. Indeed, waste and fraudulent and exorbitant contracts have been the hallmarks of the Katrina recovery to date.
In a number of the sections of the report, the commentary is vague and often self-serving to the communities, as if the material is not so much to present the true condition, but as the respondents envision the recovery to be.
GCN will have a more thorough analysis in a future report. The entire report is linked below.