Katrina: How Quickly They Forget

After the tragically mismanaged response to Katrina, President Bush pledged, "This government will learn the lessons of Hurricane Katrina." But the White House and conservatives allies are back to their old ways. Katrina has become another excuse to push through right-wing initiatives that were rejected by Congress and the public in the past.

Evacuees left out in the cold
After Katrina, Bush told the nation, "Our first commitment is to meet the immediate needs of those who had to flee their homes and leave all their possessions behind." Yet Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) says that housing remains the biggest need along the Gulf Coast and that the pace of recovery has been "unacceptable."

Roughly 200,000 evacuees remain in hotels costing taxpayers almost $250 million, just 7,308 temporary trailers and 10,940 housing units are being occupied by victims in the three affected Gulf states, and tens of thousands of evacuees remain without stable housing options. Ronald D. Utt, a former senior official at HUD and Reagan administration aide who is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, was left at a loss trying to explain the administration's housing policy: "This is not incompetence. This is willful. That is the only way I can explain it."

America is still unprepared for national disasters Bush pledged "emergency planning to be a national priority," and Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said that there were "a lot of things that didn't work well with the response" and that the government needs to "re-engineer FEMA."

But President Bush missed an opportunity recently to demonstrate a renewed commitment to natural disaster preparedness. In remarks after signing the Homeland Security appropriations bill, Bush did not make a single mention of the administration's commitment to being better prepared for a natural disaster.

Children are still not in school Bush has made a pledgeto work with local communities to rebuild schools.Today, at least 20,000 public school students uprooted by Hurricane Katrina are still not in school, according to the Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard. Picard notes, "Many of these kids were at risk to begin with." The bulk of the students displaced "are part of families with low incomes…have low income…have learning problems…[or] face other hurdles."

Health care benefits are cut Bush's pledge to "ensure that evacuees do not have to travel great distances or navigate bureaucracies to get benefits" has not been kept. In fact, benefits for the "scattered tens of thousands of current and potential Medicaid recipients across the country" are not even available for them where they are.

Bush has asked Congress to "make even deeper reductions in the mandatory spending programs than are already planned," cuts that would especially hit Medicaid recipients hard. For conservatives, $10 billion in cuts still aren't enough. Although more Americans are turning to this essential safety net, the House leadership may more than double these cuts.

The poor are getting poorer Instead of reducing "poverty with bold action" as he promised, Bush has heightened poverty with his bold actions. The $50 billion budget cuts proposed by conservatives in the House are aimed at cutting programs for students, families, and the poor.

Only under intense pressure did the House leadership drop their plan to cut $500 million in food stamp aid for the poor. But President Bush's new bankruptcy law has meant that it is more difficult to file bankruptcy to gain protection from creditors", coming at a time when bankruptcy may be the only option for some Americans devastated by Hurricane Katrina." At least the rich are getting richer. $70 billion is planned to go back into the pockets of the wealthy as tax cuts. 

There's always time for profiteering While FEMA has finally decided to re-bid $1.2 billion of the no-bid contracts awarded after Hurricane Katrina, they didn't do it before the well-connected profited. The Associated Press found that many of the largest contracts, which are now being reviewed for fraud and waste, were awarded after Katrina were given out based on political contacts and contributions.

"This shows the best government contractors don't always get hired, the most politically influential do," said Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

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