This will be the first year that Congressional Leadership
and the President of the United States do not travel to the Gulf Coast to honor
the anniversary of our nation’s largest disaster. Hurricane Katrina caused over
1,800 deaths, more than $150 billion in damages and displaced over one million
Americans from their homes. Four years and three hurricanes later, many
communities along the Gulf Coast are still devastated.
If they did visit today, they certainly would find some
progress. This Administration has succeeded in clearing up bureaucratic
squabbles stalling millions of dollars for projects such as rebuilding Southern
University in New Orleans. Yet if they visited places like East Biloxi or the
Lower Ninth Ward and met with the region’s most vulnerable people — residents
with disabilities, poor, elderly, minority and immigrant communities —they would
find that the federal government still has a long fight ahead to make good on
promises to rebuild a stronger, safer and more equitable Gulf Coast.
Thousands of residents still live in toxic
government-issued trailers as they struggle to rebuild their homes. Affordable
housing construction has ground to a halt with the crash of financial markets.
Homelessness has doubled in New Orleans since 2005 to roughly 12,000. Health
care facilities, particularly in mental health where needs have skyrocketed,
remain limited. Eighty percent of our nation’s coastal erosion each year occurs
along the Gulf of Mexico, destroying tens of thousands of acres of wetlands.
When combined with climate change, the very existence of coastal communities and
cultures which depend on the vitality of the bayous for their livelihood and
flood protection are now at stake. Tens of thousands of internally displaced
survivors lack the resources to return and reunite with family and many more are
unable to access proper training and living wage work to lift their families out
of poverty. The result is a domestic human rights crisis.
These issues have implication even beyond our borders.
After the United States joined the U.N. Human Rights Council in April, the first
report heard by the body castigated the U.S. for abuses including discriminatory
recover policies and failing to provide displaced survivors of Hurricane Katrina
with the resources they need to return and rebuild. The treatment of hurricane
survivors continues to be a black mark on our nation’s reputation and threatens
to undermine America’s ability to lead the world on human rights
Without stepping foot on the ground and talking with
survivors it is difficult fully grasp the enormity and diversity of the
challenges still facing Gulf Coast families and the vital need for new
solutions. Leaders in Washington could still learn from community leaders on the
ground working every day to restore their neighborhoods.
To fill the gaps left by the federal and local government
response, heroic community and faith-based organizations, backed by thousands of
volunteers, have responded to this crisis with innovative and cost effective
programs to rebuild lives across Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. They
have led some of the most successful efforts in the recovery to date but
unfortunately often the lack of funding to grow their efforts in scale.
Looking to build on local successes and tackle recovery
issues, diverse grassroots leaders from across the region working with students,
policy experts, and a bipartisan group of legislators including Representatives
Zoe Lofgren, Rodney Alexander, Joseph Cao, Charlie Melancon, Gene Taylor
and Bennie Thompson developed the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act. This legislation would create 100,000
green job and training opportunities for residents and displaced survivors of
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to rebuild and sustain their communities. The
federal government would partner directly with local officials and non-profits
to address remaining challenges like infrastructure, affordable housing and
flood protection. It would focus on building resilience to climate change,
mitigating the effects of future deadly storms and confronting poverty. This
plan is supported by 250 community, faith, environmental and human rights
organizations along the Gulf Coast and across the nation like the NAACP, ACLU, National Council of Churches, Jewish Council on Public Affairs, NETWORK, Global Green, 1SKY, the Equity & Inclusion Campaign, Oxfam American and Amnesty International USA. Last September over
100 Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Mainline Protestant and Muslim leaders urged
Congress and the next Administration to support this innovative policy as a
national moral priority.
Over 30 members of the U.S. House are now urging their
colleagues on Capitol Hill and at the White House to remember the people of the
Gulf Coast and our duty as Americans to ensure every community has a right to
recovery with this legislation. As we approach the 4th Anniversary of
Hurricane Katrina, there is no better way to utilize the lessons learned since
2005 and support our brothers and sisters along the Gulf Coast than by passing
and funding the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.
Click here to support to urge your Member of Congress to support the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act.
Follow Jeffrey Buchanan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JRBinNOVA