On Second Anniversary, Government Assistance to Hurricane Evacuees & Recovery is Woefully Lacking

Gulf Coast residents must not be forgotten, citizens must hold leaders accountable

August 29 , 2007

As survivors and evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita continue to try and piece their lives back together two years after the devastating storms, the NAACP calls on Congress and the American people to not forget and act on their plight.

As a result of the storms, some 250,000 people are yet displaced throughout the nation because they have no homes, no jobs nor the financial means to rebuild. And reportedly, $1.175 billion in federally appropriated funds for Katrina rebuilding and relief efforts remain held up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the next few days, Congress will return from recess with 60 days to decide on the 2008 federal budget-- including continuing funds for Gulf Coast recovery efforts and assistance for Katrina survivors. The President's budget proposal does not provide adequate funding for many of the key programs that provide housing, education and health care assistance in the region.

The President's budget does not renew the $500 million Social Service Block Grant to help hurricane ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast fund child welfare, employment services, and other state and local social programs. And neither the President's budget nor any proposals from Congress include additional funds for The Road Home, a program designed to help those displaced by Katrina and Rita with housing issues.

“We are approaching a moment of truth,” said NAACP National Board of Directors Chairman Julian Bond. “In the next 60 days we'll find out if those politicians were telling the truth when they made all their campaign promises and speeches about helping people recover their lives and livelihoods, or if they were just taking advantage of the victims of Katrina for political gain.”

”Congress has an opportunity to act with conviction and help hundreds of thousands put their lives back together,” he said. “Let's make sure that they do just that.”

Education After Katrina: Time for a New Federal Response, a study conducted by the Southern Education Foundation released yesterday (Aug. 29), notes that as many as 15,000 students who attend public schools in the region missed school last year, along with up to 35,000 college students in Louisiana and Mississippi.

“Despite the length of time that has passed since the hurricanes hit, the response of the federal government to the educational needs of children and students from preschool to higher education has been abysmal,”

said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s chief of government affairs said. “This blatant disregard by the federal government to the plight of thousands of American children and students, despite the equal protection clause
of the U.S. Constitution, decades of civil rights laws, and volumes of ‘talk’ about improving America’s public schools is, quite frankly, morally repugnant.”

Perhaps even more important than the findings of the report are its recommendations. The report calls for a comprehensive review of the current situation, speedy creation of a government recovery plan for students from kindergarten through college and comprehensive implementation of that plan.

“If implemented, these recommendations would go a long way toward helping students of all ages overcome their emotional and educational scars while being placed back on the track to receive the educational opportunities that every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, national origin or geographic location are guaranteed by law,” Shelton added.

The NAACP's local and regional branches are working hard to ensure proper health care, legal representation, education and housing in the Gulf Coast. The NAACP arrived on the stricken Gulf Coast before the federal government responded and has been responsive ever since. Via a partnership with the American Red Cross, hundreds of NAACP members have completed training as certified disaster relief volunteers in their communities and the NAACP has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to assist in the construction of new homes in the region.

To mark the nation’s deadliest recent disaster, NAACP leaders joined in yesterday’s “Day of Presence” activities led by Essence magazine founder Susan L. Taylor at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. The “Day of Presence,” supported by a growing coalition of national and local organizations, is intended to force the government to act swiftly to create a Marshall Plan-like approach to restore New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. Learn more at www.adayofpresence.com.

More than 300 gathered in Biloxi, Miss. with more NAACP members for a tent meeting to motivate and inspire residents of that area to be vigilant in their challenging local and state government officials to speed up recovery efforts.

A diverse group of community organizations including the NAACP also marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Tuesday with a series of town hall meetings at Dillard University in New Orleans to discuss recovery and renewal efforts for Gulf Coast residents of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. The meeting was the first region-wide commemoration that includes residents from each of the three most affected states. U.S. Reps. Bennie Thompson, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Maxine Waters and William Jefferson were among the community leaders that joined the discussion.

Briefing papers specific to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas (the states either affected by Hurricane Katrina or where former residents of the Gulf now reside) were released at that time. The papers cover efforts to encourage economic development, transportation, housing, schools, etc. in these areas and can be found online at: www.regionandcommunity.org.

Participants in the town hall meetings included the Center for Healthy Communities, Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, Louisiana Justice Institute, Mississippi NAACP, Mississippi Economic Policy Center, numerous Gulf Coast coalitions and networks, with the support of national institutions including the Initiative for Regional and Community Transformation and Oxfam America.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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