BATON ROUGE - September 22 - On the anniversary of Hurricane Rita, the state of Louisiana is finally poised to start expending the billions of federal dollars needed to rebuild housing along the Gulf Coast, according to international aid agency Oxfam America, but this critical investment could miss the neediest communities if non-profit and faith-based groups aren't assigned a significant role in its distribution.
Oxfam called on state officials to ensure that locally based groups -- the only major drivers of the recovery to date -- continue to play a central part in the taxpayer-financed reconstruction effort. ICF International, the global consultancy firm, was recently awarded an $87 million contract to run Louisiana's Road Home Housing Program.
"For 12 long months, it's been the non-profit and faith-based groups that have helped the poor folks across coastal Louisiana, not the federal or state government," said Davida Finger, Louisiana state coordinator for Oxfam's Gulf Coast Emergency Program. "Whole neighborhoods are coming back to life because of the unflagging efforts of these groups and to cut them out now would be disastrous to the recovery of poor communities."
As Louisiana moves forward with the Road Home program, it is vital that it empowers -- and funds -- these groups to continue with the essential work they have started.
"Through volunteer labor and donated materials, non-profit and faith-based groups have led the rebirth of the coast," added Finger. "In a federal and state response known best for what didn't work, why on earth would you ignore the one part that did?"
Through its tireless appeal efforts, the Houma-based Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC) has helped storm-battered residents retrieve close to $1 million in the FEMA assistance that was their due.
"We've stepped in to assist folks navigate the flawed FEMA process as the system just doesn't make sense to most people," said Peg Case, director of TRAC. "If we weren't doing FEMA appeal work, our clients would have gotten nothing. It's important we remain involved in the next phase of the recovery so that no one is left out."
In Phoenix, the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center has inspired a whole community revival with its self-help message: "Let us arise and rebuild." And in Vermilion Parish, the Southern Mutual Help Association has worked with hundreds of families and volunteers to rebuild their homes.
"It is the understanding that local groups have of the impacted communities that is truly invaluable," said Charlette Minor, co-chair of the Louisiana Housing Economic and Community Development Collaborative, a group poised to reach out to the tens of thousands yet not registered for the Road Home program. "Only through capitalizing on local networks and experience can the Louisiana plan have a chance of providing poor families a real Road Home. Without our involvement, the most vulnerable families will remain lost and shut out of the recovery."