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GulfGov Reports Outlines State Progress in Spending Federal Aid

For the complete text of the report, click on:

http://www.rockinst.org/gulfgov/ or http://www.la-par.org

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government today released a report on federal funding in response to the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Spending Federal Disaster Aid is an analysis of two major types of aid being used for reconstruction and economic recovery. This analysis of FEMA Public Assistance (PA) grants and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) demonstrates many of the intergovernmental challenges and problems federal, state, and local officials face as they navigate through the stops and starts of the two-year-old recovery effort toward long-term stability for the region.

Among the report’s findings are:

  1. The amount of federal aid provided to Mississippi and Louisiana is not proportional to the amount of damage each state suffered.
  2. The sluggishness of aid distribution continues to be the primary concern of state and local officials in both states.
  3. The reimbursement nature of the FEMA PA program generally means that local governments must pay for work out of their own pockets first. For those local governments left with little to no tax base or revenue sources, that means much of the recovery process is stalled because they do not have the money to start the federal aid flow. While both states now offer mechanisms for local officials to obtain advance payments to get work started, the effort required further slows the recovery process.
  4. The federal disaster aid programs now in place were never designed to handle the scale of catastrophic damage left behind by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. While the federal government has tried to adapt existing programs to get the money flowing to the affected areas, it is evident from the continuing slow pace of the recovery more than two years after the storms that other avenues need to be explored.
  5. The two phases of the aftermath of a disaster — response and recovery — involve different logistics and politics. Response and recovery needs differ throughout the Gulf region, and federal aid programs and policies need to be cognizant of these differences.

“While more than $8 billion has been disbursed through these federal recovery programs, the costs for full recovery continue to climb,” said Jim Brandt, president of PAR and co-principal investigator on the project. “A new level of communication and cooperation will be necessary to speed up the recovery and finish the job of rebuilding this region.”

The GulfGov Reports publication series has cited a number of lessons to be learned from the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the response to the disaster. Among them are that advanced planning and intergovernmental coordination are essential to progress and that housing availability and economic infrastructure are interdependent and necessary components for recovery. This means that local officials have to focus on both elements at the same time and massive infusions of cash are required to keep things moving forward. Yet, accessing federal aid has brought its own set of problems, as this study shows.

“The GulfGov Reports ongoing research project is synthesizing some important lessons about how federalism works and fails to work in disaster response mode,” said Dr. Richard P. Nathan, co-director of the Rockefeller Institute and co-principal investigator on the project. “This report puts federal aid policies, programs, and practices in dealing with mega-disasters under a federalism microscope. We had better learn from the lessons of Katrina and Rita. A catastrophic disaster like this breaks the normal rules of intergovernmental roles and responsibilities and forces a fresh look at the appropriate assignment of governmental responsibilities.”

This report is part of an ongoing research project being conducted jointly by the Rockefeller Institute and PAR with the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation. In addition to the Rockefeller Institute and PAR, the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University and the Center for Urban Planning and Policy Assessment at Jackson State University also are partnering in the research network for this project. The Advisory Committee for the project is chaired by former Mississippi Gov. William F. Winter.

The report is available online by clicking http://www.rockinst.org/gulfgov/ or http://www.la-par.org.

Previous reports also available online include:

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