Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Obama blasts Bush on Katrina aid, silent on area's corruption heritage

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama ripped President Bush yesterday over the federal government's slow response in the rebuilding of the gulf coast areas damaged by Katrina, saying "There is not a sense of urgency out of this White House and this administration."


But what is really slowing federal aid to Louisiana and Mississippi is the Stafford Act, a bill, that among other things, puts up fraud safeguards in federal reconstruction projects.

From a Wall Street Journal article reprinted in the Biloxi Sun-Herald:

According to the White House, the federal government has provided $110 billion for the Gulf Coast region. But nowhere near that amount of actual cash has been made available. The total is spread over five states and covers damage done by three separate storms. Some of it consists of loans. A chunk comes from government insurance payouts that ultimately derived from premiums paid by homeowners themselves.


Under the Stafford Act, rebuilding funds must be accompanied by a 10 percent match from local governments, on the theory that localities won't misspend if their money is also on the line. Similarly, FEMA will cover only 75 percent of a project's cost until the job is complete.

The Stafford Act rules were loosened after 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew, but not for Katrina. Why is that?

More from the same article:

The region's reputation for corruption is one reason why. Influence peddling on the coast has a long history, from 1930s Louisiana Gov. Huey Long to Edwin Edwards, a three-term governor currently serving a 10-year prison sentence. Recently, Mississippi was named the most corrupt state in the nation by Corporate Crime Reporter, a Washington, D.C., publication.

(My note: What about Illinois?)

"The question is not whether Congress should provide for those in need, but whether state and local officials who have been derelict in their duty should be trusted with that money," Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, wrote in a 2005 letter to then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert. "Their record during Hurricane Katrina and the long history of public corruption in Louisiana convinces me that that they should not."

The same article compares two bridges destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. One, owned by a railroad, was rebuilt in six months. The other, property of the federal government, is nothing more than concrete pilings.

Certainly the current rebuilding plan isn't working. But Senator Obama can't turn a blind eye to the area's history of corruption when suggesting a change of course.

Corruption isn't something Obama talked about yesterday.

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