WaPo Slams Bush for Holding Up Katrina Funds

Fred Hiatt, WaPo editorial writer, must be reading this blog.

LOUISIANA IS in a bind. Nineteen months after hurricanes Katrina and Rita decimated its economy, slashed its tax base and hobbled its workforce, the state is struggling to get back on its feet. Every dollar of redevelopment money is vital. That’s why there have been consistent calls on President Bush to waive the 10 percent local match requirement on projects using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And just as consistently, he has refused. Why is this 10 percent match, which local governments have to pay upfront, so important? Let us explain.

When disaster strikes, FEMA stands ready with financial aid. The agency is absolutely right to demand that states share in the expense of cleanup and recovery. Under circumstances deemed “extraordinary” and with damage assessments above $110 per capita, FEMA can shrink that burden from the customary 25 percent to 10 percent. But the president has the authority to waive even that requirement in the event of major catastrophes. Mr. Bush did this for New York after the horrific Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (damage: $390 per capita).

Although Fred seems to have allowed his sense of humanity and justice to over-ride his usually-reliable loyalty to Bush for this one time, he still can’t bring himself to admit that Junior also waived the requirement for Florida after Hurricane Andrew when his brother Jeb was Gov.

Come on, Freddie. As long as you’re out on a rare truth-limb anyway, you might just as well tell it all.

Not so for Louisiana. Not after it was hit by the worst natural disaster in U.S. history; not after it sustained the worst damages in U.S. history ($6,700 per capita). Not after 1.3 million people were displaced from their homes. Not after its economy collapsed. And not after residents of a great American city, New Orleans, experienced what Mr. Bush called “the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know.”

While the administration refuses to waive the 10 percent match on FEMA-financed projects, it is allowing Louisiana to use $775 million in community development block grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to pay the fee. Good luck getting it. Not only must all of the 20,000 projects — big and small — adhere to FEMA’s rules, but they also must comply with HUD’s requirements to get the money. Therefore, projects can’t proceed unless it is determined in advance that they will meet the crazy quilt of separate yet duplicative requirements of two federal agencies. It’s estimated that the process could generate at least 2.6 million documents (not pages). Louisiana stands a better shot at winning money on “Deal or No Deal.” And those HUD funds could be better used to build schools, housing and other infrastructure. More important, freeing up this money would give New Orleans a big chunk of the money it needs to finance its smart redevelopment plan.

(emphasis added)

Penny-pinching is only part of what this is about and Fred knows it. But having gotten this far, he can’t bring himself to take it the rest of the way, and not mentioning Andrew is what lets him do it. 9/11 might be considered an extraordinary enough catastrophe to justify a waiver in its case that the Bush Admin could defend denying in the case of a natural disaster, but not if he did it for his brother after a hurricane less severe than Katrina, let alone Katrina and Rita combined. Admitting that would force Fred to look for another reason for Bush’s obstinacy, and he doesn’t want that because it would lead him into waters where he’s over his head – racism and classism.

The red tape, the reluctance to pay out promised funds, the abandonment of Katrina refugees in trailer parks, aiming the money that does get released to business and corporate interests instead of public projects, and the use of HUD to stonewall aid to the entire area are all deliberate obstructions intended to encourage the development of the new New Orleans as an upscale Republican resort free of the contamination of poor and minority (and mostly Democratic) citizens/voters.

Fred, like the rest of the media, doesn’t want to go there.

But give him credit for beginning to make the case for just how badly Bush screwed the pooch.

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