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Recovery Obstacles Continue to Challenge Communities

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The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana today released a report that examines some of the recovery misconceptions state and local officials continue to combat more than three years after hurricanes Katrina and Rita washed ashore. The misconceptions detailed in GulfGov Reports: Three Years after Katrina and Rita, Challenges Remain, present frustrating obstacles for officials because they make it harder for them to combat the “Katrina fatigue” that exists in Washington, D.C., and across the nation.

With the recovery work expected to last a decade, state and local officials in the affected communities will have to spend considerable time and resources countering the following misconceptions as they work to rebuild:

  1. Misconception: The allocation of recovery money equals distribution of recovery money.

    Reality: There is a delay between the time federal recovery money is allocated and the time it is disbursed to the local governments.

  2. Misconception: The federal government has a mechanism in place to rationally and equitably distribute long-term recovery money.

    Reality: The federal government has several programs in place from which it can distribute disaster aid money, but none of them is geared specifically toward catastrophic disasters. In addition, Congress created a program designed to help boost economic development recovery efforts in areas affected by Katrina and Rita, but it does not apply to other communities that have suffered disasters, and it is scheduled to end in 2010.

  3. Misconception: With so much federal money involved, massive fraud and misuse of funds were inevitable in Louisiana and Mississippi.

    Reality: There have been instances of fraud and abuse, but not to the degree feared by many, and federal, state, and local authorities have been aggressive in their efforts both to prevent fraud and to prosecute it.

  4. Misconception: Louisiana’s homeowner grant assistance program – known as the Road Home Program – has been a failure, while Mississippi’s program – known as the Homeowner Assistance Program – has succeeded in addressing that state’s recovery housing needs.

    Reality: Neither program has succeeded in resolving the acute housing shortage both states face as a result of Katrina and Rita, nor has either program produced a template that could be used to address housing issues created by future disasters.

  5. Misconception: The Mississippi Gulf Coast has completely recovered.

    Reality: Certain segments of the Mississippi Gulf Coast have recovered, but more recovery work remains to be done.

  6. Misconception: Disasters of this scale devastate state revenues.

    Reality: There is an initial loss of revenue before recovery work begins, but then revenues increase sharply.

  7. Misconception: Hurricane Katrina was solely a natural disaster for New Orleans.

    Reality: Hurricane Katrina was both a natural disaster and a man-made disaster for New Orleans.

“While it is now three years since Katrina and Rita, the issues raised by this report remain as timely and relevant as ever,” said PAR President Jim Brandt. “If anything, they have become even more important as officials in communities devastated by hurricanes Gustav and Ike come face to face with many of the same bureaucratic obstacles, challenges, and frustrations Louisiana and Mississippi officials have encountered since Katrina and Rita.”

At the heart of these misconceptions lies the problem of communication – communication between different levels of government, between government and people, and between government and the media. As has been well-documented in numerous reports, the almost complete breakdown of communications in the days after Katrina struck exacerbated what was already a disaster unlike any this country had faced before. With little to no communication happening, much of the relief work was delayed and rumors exploded.

As relief efforts finally gave way to long-term rebuilding work, the communication problems continued, as state and local officials struggled with the federal government’s one-size-fits-all recovery process. Efforts to convince federal officials of the need to view each community as a unique entity when it comes to disaster recovery have, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears, and frustrated officials and residents alike. Nor have state and local officials been able to effectively dispel the myths and misconceptions that continue to plague the recovery work. That, in turn, has made it much more difficult for them to convince Congress that the recovery will take many years and require more assistance from the federal government.

With the GulfGov Reports hurricane recovery research project nearing an end, this latest report departs from the format the project has followed since its inception. Specifically, it takes a step back to assess some of the wider implications of the rebuilding process through an examination of some of the continuing misconceptions about the recovery that persist more than three years after Katrina and Rita struck.

In this last phase of the research series, the partnering research organizations are publishing independent final reports. This report by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana is a regional analysis of ongoing issues related to the recovery. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government will publish a separate white paper that will focus on the national implications of the recovery and on the federalism and governance issues in particular.

This report is available online at www.la-par.org.

Previous reports in the project are also available online:

GulfGov Reports: One Year Later
GulfGov Reports: Education. An Examination of the Impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Public School Districts in 15 Communities
GulfGov Reports: A Year and a Half after Katrina and Rita, an Uneven Recovery
GulfGov Reports: Spending Federal Disaster Aid. Comparing the Process and Priorities in Louisiana and Mississippi in the Wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
GulfGov Reports: Response, Recovery, and the Role of the Nonprofit Community in the Two Years Since Katrina and Rita
GulfGov Reports: The Role of Community Rebuilding Plans in the Hurricane Recovery

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