Blueprint for Gulf Renewal (2007)

The Katrina Crisis and a Community Agenda for Action

Institute for Southern Studies
Southern Exposure (Vol. 35, Nos. 3 & 4) August/September 2007

INTRODUCTION: Keeping our promise to the Gulf Coast

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck and floodwaters devastated New Orleans, President Bush declared our country's commitment to a full recovery in the Gulf Coast. "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives," he promised.

Yet two years after the storms, much of the Gulf Coast and its people still live in devastation. In preparing Blueprint for Gulf Renewal, the Institute analyzed reams of government reports, media coverage and statistical indicators. We also interviewed 40 community leaders, from New Orleans to Biloxi, Mississippi, about the challenges they face, and their message to the nation. The statistics and the voices of Gulf Coast leaders tell the same story: The Katrina recovery is failing. As of mid- August, 60,000 people are still living in "temporary" FEMA trailers because of hold-ups on aid programs and insurance. Schools and hospitals are shuttered, good jobs are scarce and daily threats to health and wellbeing aren't addressed. Over 60 percent of those still displaced across the country say they want to come home, but can't—mostly because they can't afford to. Thao Vu of Boat People SOS in Biloxi, Miss., speaks for many when she says, "We are very far from recovery."

After two long years of frustration and hardship, many are running out of time and hope. If there's one message that runs through this report, it's that our country has broken its promise to the people of the Gulf Coast. When confronted with this reality, many leaders in Washington point to the "big check" that Congress and the President say they have written to fund Katrina relief and recovery—$116 billion, according to most recent estimates. But as dozens of community leaders asked us: Where did the money go?

For this report, we also conducted an in-depth analysis of the latest data available on federal spending for the Gulf Coast. The findings are eye- opening. Less than a third of that "big check" is slated for long-term rebuilding. The bulk of the money went to short-term emergency relief, which often missed those most in need. What's more, two years after the storm, less than half of federal funds available for long-term rebuilding have even been spent. And what has been spent has often bypassed the Gulf's most vulnerable communities. As community leaders told us again and again, "The money isn't reaching the people."

Two years after Katrina, our nation has an opportunity to change course and demonstrate our commitment to those being left behind by the failed recovery. This report also offers dozens of practical proposals, drawn from the ground-level experiences of community leaders, for creating a more vibrant, just and healthy future for the Gulf Coast's people. People and organizations from all parts of society—state and local officials, faith institutions, nonprofit groups, student volunteers—have a role to play in the reconstruction. But in the end, only bold national leadership can ensure a better future for the Gulf Coast. Only Washington has the resources necessary to ensure a prompt, equitable and comprehensive recovery for all. Two years after Katrina, it's past time for Washington to make good on its promises.

Institute for Southern Studies
August/September •2007

Table of Contents


2-3 INTRODUCTION: Keeping Our Promise to the Gulf Coast (featured above)
6-7 THE KATRINA INDEX: The State of Recovery by Numbers
8-9 SPECIAL REPORT: Where Did the Katrina Money Go?
10-36 GULF COAST VOICES: Our Message to the Nation

Volume and Number: 
VOL 35, Nos. 3 and 4

Since 1973 Southern Exposure has gained critical praise for its thorough investigations, unsentimental portraits of Southern life, and public interest reporting.