BOSTON - February 23 - Six months after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and displacing more than 800,000 people from their homes, state and federal agencies are continuing to neglect poor communities, according to, "Recovering States: The Gulf Coast Six Months After the Storm," a report which will be released next week by international aid agency Oxfam America.
"Despite critical reports and investigative hearings of government failures, despite the flurry of commitments to confront poverty in the U.S. -- six months after Katrina, little has changed," said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam America's Regional Office. "It's unconscionable that the same vulnerable people abandoned in the height of the storm could again be neglected in the recovery. There are still thousands of people who don't have a place to live and don't have answers to the most basic questions about their futures in the Gulf Coast."
Oxfam's aims in the Gulf Coast since Katrina and Rita have been to empower poor communities that have been most deeply affected by the storms. "Recovering States," examines current conditions, and long-term implications, for lower income families whose vulnerabilities were laid bare by Hurricane Katrina. Several key elements of the report analyze statistics related to the number of still displaced people, endemic poverty rates in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the repercussions of states' proposed plans for federal funds. As part of its advocacy for the most vulnerable groups, Oxfam devotes a section to the large but often overlooked group of renters, who may be completely bypassed by federal funding earmarked for Katrina recovery.
Since Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, Oxfam America has been an active participant and advocate in providing relief and recovery to lower income families overlooked by federal agencies. Oxfam is partnering with 16 local community organizations such as the NAACP, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA), to provide assistance to vulnerable groups.
On Feb. 16, President Bush submitted a request to Congress for an additional $19.8 billion for rebuilding the Gulf Coast, including an additional $4.2 billon in Community Development Block Grant funding, which Oxfam calls, "a major step toward reconstruction of the Gulf Coast," but advises, "by no means should it be the last step."
"We welcome this additional request for funds and urge Congress to respond quickly," said Ashley Tsongas, advocacy coordinator for Oxfam's Hurricane Recovery. "However, these funds must be allocated so they also meet the urgent housing needs of the poorest and most vulnerable hurricane survivors. Funds earmarked for FEMA should instead be directed to HUD, a federal agency with proven affordable housing expertise."
A portion of the $85 billion for relief and recovery in the Gulf Coast that has already been approved by Congress is dedicated to Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding designed to assist low and moderate income communities with decent housing, expanded economic opportunities, and quality of life improvements. Although $11.5 billion has been already been appropriated for CDBG programs in the Gulf Coast and an additional $4.2 billion is waiting to be approved, regulations which govern the use of these funds have been loosened and the drafts of state housing recovery plans focus on a narrowly defined group of homeowners. As a result, the lowest income groups stand to lose this important part of the recovery package.
"It is time to make good on the nation's promises," Sinclair said. "More funds for affordable housing must be made available immediately, through the new money that must be approved by Congress and through state plans that target the lowest income communities. This is the critical first step to a long road to recovery that builds back better, through federal support of local initiatives."