Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) today issued the following statement on the upcoming one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina devastating the Gulf Coast:
“One year after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, New Orleans and the surrounding region remain in shambles, and more must be done to help storm survivors rebuild their shattered lives.
“From the beginning, the federal response to the storm has been inadequate to meet the needs of affected Americans. As the flood waters receded, Congress and the President pledged to help Gulf Coast residents rebuild their communities. But as Congress turned to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of rebuilding the coast, compassionate rhetoric gave way to partisan opportunism and cronyism.
“Relief funds were understandably rushed to the floor of Congress. But when the funds were doled out, the Administration handed out lucrative no-bid reconstruction contracts that may have inflated the cost to taxpayers. Then, to ‘offset the cost of reconstruction,’ Congress cut $50 billion from other key programs including Medicaid and food stamps.
“Weeks later, the House of Representatives cut taxes for the heirs of the wealthiest fraction of one percent of Americans.
“It is contradictory and irresponsible to cut programs that are lifelines for Katrina survivors, citing a budget crisis, and then provide massive tax breaks to those who need it least with no regard for the cost.
“On the ground in New Orleans, the return to normalcy has slowed to a crawl. The city’s water system still leaks massive amounts of water, utilities have not been restored in many neighborhoods, and sinkholes caused by broken pipes are destroying many of the remaining roads.
“But one year after Katrina, just over half of the money allocated for reconstruction has been spent. Eighty percent of small business owners affected by Katrina with approved Small Business Administration loans still wait for the money. Roughly 7,500 families still wait for trailers promised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and many who received them now find any number of keys can open their locked doors.
“Incredibly, when Congress appropriated billions of dollars for disaster relief, Congress and the Administration failed to establish procedures to track the money. FEMA reports to Congress on their relief spending, but several other federal agencies have slices of relief funds to distribute, and they do not report their expenditures. In many cases, these agencies do not even track whether the money has actually been spent.
“If Congress were serious about fiscal responsibility, they would appoint a special inspector general to oversee Katrina spending. I cosponsored a bill, House Resolution 3737, to do just that. Months later, House Leadership has yet to bring this common-sense measure up for a vote.
“In addition to failing to oversee tax dollars, Congress and the Administration have failed to live up to many of the President’s promises to survivors. Both the President’s proposed Worker Recovery Accounts and the Urban Homesteading Act, billed as needed help to get evacuees working and in their homes, have stalled in Congress and have not moved since January.
“All this led us to where we are today in New Orleans: fraud and continued delays getting relief money where it is needed, infrastructure and housing still in disarray, and a growing health and mental health crisis burgeoning among the survivors. Cost estimates for reconstruction continue to balloon, painting a dark picture of our nation’s fiscal future.
“The track record for this Administration and Congress before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina shows they do not understand effective government. Fiscal responsibility and effective planning are nowhere to be found. The problem is systemic: we see it in our Katrina response, in our Iraq troubles, and in our lack of fiscal discipline.
“Americans want more than just tax cuts from their government. Liberals, moderates, and conservatives can all agree that we want our government to spend our tax dollars wisely and to provide effective disaster response. Cutting taxes and increasing spending during times of crisis is neither responsible nor conservative; it’s reckless and dangerous.
“The American people know what good governance looks like. Unfortunately, as a result of the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, they surely know what corruption and incompetence look like: decimated neighborhoods untouched by rebuilding efforts while billions of dollars in reconstruction money float around federal accounts without accountability or oversight. Katrina’s aftermath is a symbol for the wrong direction in which our country is headed.
“We deserve effective, efficient government that spends money wisely in line with our values and priorities. But a year later, Congress and the Bush Administration have not corrected mistakes made before, during and after Katrina. It is time for a new direction. Americans deserve more than just a ‘heck of a job’ and it is time for Congress to give it to them.”