President Bush's Legacy in Question on Visit to Gulf Coast

By mborum

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NEW ORLEANS — As President Bush begins another visit to a region devastated not only by a tremendous hurricane but an excruciatingly slow recovery process, the international humanitarian agency Oxfam America called on both presidential candidates to renew the federal government?s commitment to rebuilding the region.

President Bush?s visit to Mississippi and Louisiana, days before the third anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, comes as a new report from Oxfam America reveals how little progress has been made and what still remains to be done to restore the region and repair the communities affected three years ago.

?If the history of the Katrina recovery were written today, it would be a tragedy. Far too little progress has been made despite the remarkable effort and ingenuity of the people of the region who are fighting to restore their homes and their lives,? said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. ?Much of the progress has come at the hands of Gulf Coast residents - in spite of significant hurdles placed in front of them by the federal government. The next administration must act quickly to remove those hurdles so Gulf Coast residents can truly and finally recover from the storms.?

Oxfam?s report, Mirror on America, which will be released Tuesday, reveals just how much work remains to be done, and provides recommendations to speed an equitable recovery, including:

  • More than 35,000 individuals still living in FEMA trailers in the Gulf Coast
  • Only 12 percent of African-American evacuees who returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes were able to find work, compared with 45 percent of white evacuees;
  • In Louisiana 82,000 apartments were damaged or destroyed by Katrina and Rita, but the highest official estimate proposes to replace only about 25,000 affordable units;
  • In Mississippi, federal money that was mandated for use in rebuilding low income housing was, instead, diverted to improving the shipyards in Biloxi;
  • Compliance with federal labor laws has been ignored, leaving workers coaxed to the region on promises of high salaries and free housing, found neither and have since been abandoned.

President Bush rightly commended many who have worked hard to rebuild their homes and their lives. Unfortunately, so many have done so on their own, with less help than they could have used from the federal government.

Rebuilding the region has proved to be difficult. Many living along the Gulf Coast have been hit by a double injustice. On one hand they can?t afford the rising costs of rent, housing, insurance and utilities. On the other, they can?t find the kind of jobs they need to offset those increased expenses. It is not too late, however, for the many thousands who still need help.

?A new administration will face the challenge of correcting the mistakes of its predecessor and a critical opportunity to rebuild the Gulf Coast better and stronger,? said Rhonda Jackson, Louisiana State Policy Specialist for Oxfam America. ?The time is now to renew our promise and commit to a full Gulf Coast recovery.?

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