News > Governor's Column
Jan 29, 2007
In the politically heated days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I told my team to forget about fighting back and to instead focus our fight to save lives. In time, I said, history will record the truth. It seems that day has come, and our challenge is to probe that truth in the hopes of changing the politics of recovery.
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown, recently broke a code of silence. He confirmed what we experienced: When our people's lives were in danger, political operatives in the White House were playing politics.
He said, "Certain people in the White House were thinking, we had to federalize Louisiana because she's a white, female Democratic Governor and we have a chance to rub her nose in it."
We suffered 80 percent of the storm damage from two hurricanes, but initially received only 54 percent of federal relief funds. Mississippi, with 23 percent of the damage, received 45 percent of the relief funds. Proportionally, our neighbors got more money, and they got it faster. I went immediately to Washington to fight for our fair share. After six months, I won that one battle for housing money, but that was six months our people could hardly afford.
What is most disturbing? This pattern continues today. Earlier this month, FEMA announced a $400 million Katrina Cottage housing program. Louisiana has 64,000 people living in trailers, but FEMA gave us only $74 million to house only 600 families still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and gave Mississippi $280 million, another distribution clearly not based on need.
Our neighbors have suffered as well, and Mississippi deserves every penny of assistance they've received. I am only asking for help for Louisiana that matches our needs. Our people are still hurting and I will not stop fighting.
Politics has no place in emergency response to a catastrophe or in a region's long-term plan for recovery.
Congress must buffer FEMA from political agendas and put an end once and for all to the great disparities in funding. It's unfair, inequitable and unacceptable.