DENVER, CO ? Three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast a new report from international relief and development organization Oxfam America launched at a round table at the Democratic National Convention reveals the low pace of ?getting back to normal? in the region and urges the next Administration to make the region?s recovery a national priority.
Oxfam?s report, "Mirror on America: How the state of Gulf Coast recovery reflects on us all," comes just days before the anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history and a week before a September 5 deadline for Louisiana residents to apply to the state?s Road Home program for assistance. With the passing of this deadline, thousands of residents in that state will no longer be able to receive needed assistance so that they can return home.
?The uneven and inequitable state of recovery of the Gulf Coast is a national embarrassment,? said Oxfam America President Raymond C. Offenheiser. ?Although the force of the storms was an act of nature, the failures of the recovery are an act of our government. If we refuse to address this as a nation, it will go down in history not only as a failure of leadership, but also as a failure to hold our government accountable.?
The barriers to a complete recovery are most apparent in the housing and jobs sectors.. More than 35,000 individuals still living in FEMA trailers in the Gulf Coast, according to Oxfam?s report. 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.
Workers 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. 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, according to the report. Compliance with federal labor laws has been ignored with frequent occurrences of safety and health violations, wage theft and exploitative treatment of immigrant workers.
?It was the perfect storm of worker exploitation and wage suppression,? said Tracie L. Washington, president and CEO of the Louisiana Justice Institute in the report. ?We should have found ourselves in a situation where, because of the dearth of employees, workers could have found wages that equaled or exceeded those of workers in places like New York and New Jersey. But instead you had people brought in, trafficked in, through artificial government support.?
Oxfam?s is calling on national leadership to convert this national tragedy into an opportunity to ensure the security and prosperity of the Gulf Coast region, urging the next administration to create an Office for Gulf Coast Recovery headed by a federal coordinator; to make sure all federally subsidized housing destroyed in the storms is reopened or replaced; to require states Gulf Coast states that receive federal recovery dollars to provide regular reports on the use of those funds; and to ensure compliance with labor laws.
?The transition to a new administration is a critical opportunity to rebuild the Gulf Coast better and stronger,? said Offenheiser. ?Not only can we help the Gulf Coast recover, we can take the opportunity of the rebuilding effort to address the long-standing root causes of poverty and vulnerability that existed in these two states long before the storms of 2005.?
?This is our community, we want it back the way it was—or better,? said Sharon Hanshaw, Executive Director of Coastal Women for Change in Biloxi, MS. ?You take care of where you live.?