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Public Policy Response To Hurricane Katrina

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PUBLIC POLICY RESPONSE TO

HURRICANE KATRINA

Summary

As the Gulf States begin the massive task of reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, the nation is actively engaged in a dialogue concerning the lessons learned from this catastrophe, and the best options moving forward. Many are asking whether the aid package and policies proposed by President Bush are the right approach to rebuilding and restoring the region. While the hurricane shines a much needed spotlight on a number of societal issues, it is crucial that programs initiated in the stormÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s aftermath have the desired effectÐ'ÐŽXnot just regionally, but on a national scale. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina has raised other, more general public policy issues about emergency management, environmental policy, poverty, and unemployment. The discussion of both the immediate response and of the broader public policy issues may affect elections and legislation enacted at various levels of government.

Environment

Others have noted the growing evidence that the increase in recent years in the frequency of such mega-hurricanes as Katrina is a result of global warming. A checklist of environmental policy failures must also include the administrationÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s head-in-the-sand approach to global warming. The Bush administration has aggressively undermined international efforts to forcefully address such potentially catastrophic changes in the worldÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s climate as a result of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States and other industrialized nations. It is impossible to say whether even a responsible approach to climate change would have dampened KatrinaÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s fury. But the fact remains that scientists believe global warming will make future hurricanes more severe. The presidentÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s policy of blocking meaningful efforts to reduce global warming emissions no doubt means that future storms will do greater damage than they would otherwise.

Besides contributing to global warming, our reliance on fossil fuels also invites the sort of disruptions in energy supplies felt across the nation after Katrina. Congress and the president have gone out of their way to reject energy efficiency legislation that would save money, make industries more competitive, and prevent pollution. Instead, the federal government offers tax incentives to wealthy oil companies to drill for more oil, and works to open up public lands to their drills. The apparent objective is to keep supplies ample and pump prices low, but nobody I know whoÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s been to a gas station lately would say that is working.

The various pollutants circulated around the city of New Orleans by floodwaters also provide damning evidence of bad policy and bad enforcement. These pollutants include oil spilled from above-ground tanks; fuel and chemicals from leaking underground tanks; sewage from flooded treatment plants; and toxic chemicals washed into flood waters from flooded buildings, lagoons, lots and individual containers. In an area subject to flooding Ð'ÐŽV as we all knew New Orleans was Ð'ÐŽV the neglect of these hazards is inexcusable. Toxic waste from three separate Superfund sites is another ingredient in the toxic roux that flooded New Orleans. These sites should never have been allowed to become toxic, and once they were identified, they should have been cleaned to avoid exactly the outcome Katrina wrought. Of course, that was rendered nearly impossible by Congress and the presidentÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s refusal to adequately fund Superfund. A tax on polluters expired in 1995; the Clinton administration was unable to push an extension through Congress; and the Bush administration adamantly refuses to burden polluting industries with any part of the bill for their messes.

Health and Housing

Katrina has created a health care crisis of unimaginable proportions. Survivors have acute health care problems Ð'ÐŽV such as injuries that are directly related to the storm and flood Ð'ÐŽV as well as chronic conditions that need immediate care and long-term attention. Fortunately, the United States can build upon a tested model to meet these needs Ð'ÐŽV Disaster Relief Medicaid. After the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, a partnership between the city, New York State, the federal government and community-based organizations moved swiftly to provide easily accessible, comprehensive coverage to thousands of New Yorkers. This approach Ð'ÐŽV with modifications that meet the needs of this disaster Ð'ÐŽV can provide stable, dependable health coverage to Katrina survivors and enable Katrina-affected states, neighboring states, and other states sheltering Katrina survivors to cope with increased demands on their health care systems and state budgets.

In the latest iteration of its approaches to getting housing aid to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has shifted its strategy from doling out incremental portions of housing assistance to cutting checks for up to the statutorily allowable amount of $26,200 per household for approximately 60,000 households whose homes FEMA has determined can be declared destroyed without need for inspection. Households whose homes are in certain ZIP codes in five parishes in Louisiana and three counties in Mississippi that satellite imaging show complete devastation are slated to start receiving checks for the remainder of their allowable Ð'ÐŽÐ'§individual household assistanceÐ'ÐŽÐ'Ё after deducting the $2,000 and/or $2,358 allotments some have already received. Homeowners will receive the full $26,200 and renters something less. Why there is a difference in aid between homeowners and renters was not explained.

National security

Questions are once again being raised regarding the Bush administrationÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s distorted views as to what constitutes national security. Much of the criticism thus far has focused on the failure of authorities to evacuate the tens of thousands of low-income residents in New Orleans who lacked the means to leave for higher ground inland and the slowness and inefficiency of the federal response following the rupture of the levees protecting the city, much of which lies below sea level. It also appears that the Bush administrationÐ'ÐŽÐ'¦s decision to undercut the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a once-independent unit of government, by subsuming it into the Department of Homeland SecurityÐ'ÐŽXwith its over-emphasis on the threat

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