Friday, March 31, 2006

A Letter from a Senator

I lived in New Mexico for 17 years before I moved to New Orleans. One of my former students, now a friend, emailed me last night. She and her husband had emailed Senator Jeff Bingaman (D NM) upset about the federal response to Katrina. They received a letter back from the Senator's office and forwarded it to me. I asked a couple people about posting it, and the consensus was that I should do it.

I have highlighted one paragraph in it, as this was the paragraph my friend was upset about, with good reason. If you don't read anything else in the letter, read that paragraph, then go through the file cabinet in your head and think about levees and the Corps of Engineers.

Below is the letter, complete with no editing other than to delete my friend's name.

From: senator_bingaman@bingaman.senate.gov
To: D
Sent: Thursday, March 30, 2006 8:08 AM
Subject: Responding to your message

Dear D :
Thank you for contacting me regarding the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast . I appreciate your sharing your views with me on this important matter.

My heart goes out to all those who continue to be affected by the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and I share your concerns regarding the speed of recovery of the Gulf Coast . I believe reconstruction of the Gulf Coast should be done in a thoughtful and fiscally responsible way, and I have visited the area and am eager to see a swift recovery. With regard to housing, I am concerned with the delay in providing adequate housing. I am working with Senators from both parties to determine the most effective and financially responsible means of advancing reconstruction efforts.

As you may know there have been several hearings in the Senate and the House of Representatives focusing on the failures of the federal, state, and local governments in responding to Hurricane Katrina. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs will release a final report in March, and the House Special Committee to Investigate Preparation for and the Response to Hurricane Katrina released its report on February 15. Findings from the report have shown that a failure of leadership and initiative significantly undermined and detracted from response efforts.

The House Special Committee found that levees protecting New Orleans were not built for the most severe hurricanes; the failure of complete evacuations led to preventable deaths, great suffering, and further delays in relief; critical elements of the National Response Plan were executed late, ineffectively, or not at all; the Department of Homeland Security and the states were not prepared for this catastrophic event; massive communications damage and a failure to adequately plan for alternatives impaired response efforts, command and control, and situational awareness; long-standing weaknesses and the magnitude of the disaster overwhelmed FEMA's ability to provide emergency shelter and temporary housing. It is my hope that the findings in this report and the Senate's upcoming report will aid in developing emergency procedures that will help prevent another such response.

Although the Administration has stated that it will seek an additional $19 billion in funds for Gulf Coast reconstruction as part of an emergency supplemental request, the current 2007 Budget Request cuts funding for several programs that are needed during the current reconstruction process. In addition, the Administration proposed to cut funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for carrying out projects that help prevent flooding and coastal damage, including levee projects, by 11 percent, from $5.3 billion to $4.7 billion in 2007. Funding for the National Weather Service (NWS), which provides warnings and forecasts to ensure public safety, is cut from $107 million to $98 million. Programs to assist the elderly with housing costs are cut by 25 percent, and funding for programs to assist persons with disabilities with housing costs are cut by 50 percent. These budget cuts have been announced at an especially challenging time for hurricane survivors, especially because FEMA is forcing thousands of displaced survivors from hotel rooms. Reconstruction projects continue to be under funded and please be assured that I will continue to work to address the challenges we face in rebuilding the Gulf Coast .

Again, thank you for writing. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future regarding any other matter of importance to you and your community.

Sincerely,
JEFF BINGAMAN
United States Senator

I am simply too astonished to comment.

2 comments:

Polimom said...

Slate,

Thanks for posting the letter, and also telling for me about it. I amended your comment on Polimom to include a direct link.

This is bad bad bad...

Tim said...

That's politics. Forget right or wrong, forget doing what's best for the people. Forget defending America against all enemies foreign and domestic...

All that matters is this:

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