Facing South

SPECIAL REPORT: How is Obama doing on Gulf Coast recovery?

Levee 5 SurviveFor many people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the election of President Barack Obama to the White House last November brought a sense of renewed hope - or at least an opportunity to change the course of the region's stalled Katrina recovery.

But a report released today by the Institute for Southern Studies [pdf] finds that, so far, many Gulf Coast advocates give the administration low marks for their Gulf recovery - and they don't think Washington has lived up to its promises to make rebuilding a priority.

The report also includes a "Katrina Recovery Index" with 80 indicators on housing, health care, coastal protection, hurricane readiness and other measures of Gulf recovery.

Promises to the Gulf

President Obama had made the federal government's obligation to Gulf Coast rebuilding - and the Bush administration's failure to fulfill that promise - a centerpiece of his campaign and agenda. As Obama said on a campaign stop [pdf] in New Orleans in August 2007, "Let New Orleans be the place where we strengthen those bonds of trust, where a city rises up on a new foundation that can be broken by no storm."

Obama repeated his commitment in New Orleans in February 2008:

The broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there ... I promise you that when I'm in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington's end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency.

But the Institute's new report [pdf], based on surveys with over 50 Gulf Coast community leaders, reveals ongoing frustration with the scope and pace of federal initiatives.

Survey respondents included leaders from faith, community and environmental groups working in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. They were asked to grade the president and Congress in eight key areas -- and many expressed belief that, to date, little in Washington has changed:

* Gulf Coast leaders give the Obama administration's recovery efforts a grade of "D+." The only area where Obama ranked higher than a "D" was in the administration's willingness to "publicly acknowledge the challenges facing recovering Gulf Coast communities," which earned a "C-."

* The Obama administration scored lowest on tackling some of the biggest recovery priorities, scoring only a "D" for efforts to help displaced families return home, revitalizing infrastructure, increasing coastal hurricane protection and creating living-wage jobs and business opportunities.

* Surprisingly, Gulf Coast leaders didn't report much improvement over the previous administration: The Obama's grade of "D+" was only slightly higher than the "D-" grade for President Bush.

The Obama administration, which has been submerged in policy battles over economic stimulus and health care, argues it remains committed to the Gulf Coast. Officials point to "shaking loose" $1 billion in appropriated federal funds, moving people out of temporary housing and creating an arbitration panel to handle disputes that have hamstrung rebuilding projects.

Less stimulus for the Gulf

But Gulf Coast advocates view the president's $786 billion stimulus bill passed this spring as another missed opportunity. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the White House announced before the Congressional vote that the bill "would create or preserve fewer jobs in Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District than any in the nation, chiefly because the calculations were based on the district's storm-depleted population."

Congress and the president also passed on proposals for a Gulf Coast Civic Works program for "shovel-ready" green rebuilding, and a recommendation from President Bush's Gulf Coast advisor to inject $1.5 billion into stalled Gulf projects.

This may help explain this report's findings that the current Congress receives similarly low grades from Gulf advocates:

* The current 111th Congress received a "D" grade for Gulf recovery -- the highest grade (a "D+") again earned only for members' willingness to "publicly acknowledge challenges."

* The "D" grade awarded to the current Congress is almost identical to that given to the previous (110th) Congress, which also scored a "D."

Clearly, many Gulf Coast leaders believe that -- whatever the reasons -- the current leadership in Washington has not lived up to its pledge to strengthen recovery efforts in the region.

If the President and Congress are to keep their promise -- and regain the confidence of community leaders -- they must signal a more focused commitment to renewal in the still-struggling Gulf Coast.

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re: SPECIAL REPORT: How is Obama doing on Gulf Coast recovery?

Let's be real here.
Obama takes office January 20, 2009

Signs stimulus bill February 17, 2009

This sends Louisiana well, Blitzer asks Gov. Payush Jindal:
BLITZER: Louisiana -- we just checked -- they were getting, your state, $3.3 billion, part of the economic recovery, the stimulus money. Already, they have paid out almost a half-a-billion dollars, $480 million.

JINDAL: Well, a couple of things. We're not taking some of the unemployment money. We're not taking some of the TMA money.

BLITZER: Of the $3.3 billion, how much aren't you taking?

JINDAL: I think [it was] just was over $100 million.

BLITZER: The $3.2 billion that you're taking, you're -- you're happy with? That money is going to help your state and the people of Louisiana?

JINDAL: Well, I think they could have done more to help our state to get the economy growing.

Jindal wrote a Politico op-ed that declared the Recovery Act “a nearly trillion-dollar stimulus that has not stimulated.” However, less than 24 hours before he published his op-ed, he traveled to Anacoco, Louisiana to present a jumbo-sized check to residents of Vernon Parish. The funds included hundreds of thousands of dollars directly from the Recovery Act — at least $157,848 in Community Block Grant money authorized by the Recovery Act and $138,611 for Byrne/JAG job training programs created by the Recovery Act. Rather than credit the federal government or the Recovery Act he opposed, Jindal printed his own name on the corner of the massive check.

Obama appoints veteran Florida emergency manager Craig Fugate on March 3 (less than 2 months after inauguration) to head FEMA, an agency that members of Congress say not only botched the immediate response to Hurricane Katrina, but continues 3 1/2 years later to impose bureaucratic obstacles to the flow of federal rebuilding money.
It was the Obama administration's second major hurricane recovery decision since his Jan. 20 inauguration, a follow-up to the Feb. 20 announcement extending by six months the life of the Gulf Coast Recovery Office and the disaster housing assistance to Katrina victims. Both had been due to expire Feb. 28.

Yes it is August already — just six months into his administration. Bush had 3 1/2 years after Katrina to fix and rebuild. It's still not been done. All of what was promised by Bush has yet to see the light of day. And he's just around the corner in Dallas. Why not send your foot-dragging, "Not done enough" Gov. Payush Jindal over there and see if he can get First Buddy Bush to do something — wishful thinking right?

Give Obama some time. He has a couple of other things to do too. One of which is the global economy which, if fixed, would make it easier to help Louisiana a lot.