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Is the 'road home' a dead end?

Every month Mona Jones writes a check for the mortgage on her New Orleans East townhouse, even though it's gutted down to the studs. She also pays for her new kitchen appliances ruined by the flood waters and, oh yeah, she pays for the insurance to cover both. And every month she writes another check to rent the apartment where she and her husband now live in Jefferson Parish. She'd like to come home to New Orleans and rebuild, but right now she just can't afford to.

Jones' dilemma is why New Orleans nearly two years after Katrina struggles to come back.

Louisiana's Road Home program, federally funded by $7.5 billion, was started to aid people like Mona Jones. More than 138,000 have registered. So far fewer than 21,000 have received any money. New Orleans officials say at that rate it will be years before many residents can afford to return.

Today the Road Home program is under fire on Capitol Hill. No doubt a lot of anger will be vented against ICF International, the company Louisiana hired and is paying $750 million to oversee and distribute the aid. But there is an even bigger crisis looming. As I will report tonight on NBC Nightly News, the road home might be headed for a dead end.

Update: If you missed Martin's report, you can watch it here.

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COMMENTS

I am sitting here listening to a senate hearing on the Road Home program on C-span. The representative of the neighborhood "Lakeview" (an upper middle class mostly white neighborhood of NOLA) just told a story that will stay with me for the rest of my life. She told the story of 2 volunteers from Boston, a mother and a 9 year old daughter. After a week of working, the daughter turned to the mother and asked her when they would be returning to America. The lady representative broke down into tears and asked the senate panel the same question. When will we be returning to America?

Martin,
Could you please clear up a point for me? At the hearings the federal government has now taken up the same meme as the insurance companies, flood vs wind. They are saying that the money given by the federal government was only meant to cover flood damage, not wind. The insurance companies are saying they cover wind and not flood, but since there was both, they will cover neither. Is the federal government telling the truth? I heard Congressman Jindal say on the radio this AM that that was NEVER part of the agreement. Are the feds lying to us AGAIN or is this the state screwing it up AGAIN? I know it won't make any difference in the long run, because half of nothing is still nothing, but I would like to know the truth in this matter.

Thank you for continuing to air stories about the PEOPLE of Katrina. If our fellow Americans are weary of hearing about our plight, please imagine how weary those of us who live here must be! I love my country, but continue to feel as though we are considered less worthy than others. Unfortunately, WE are not the newsmakers; WE do not stand out in a crowd. WE work hard, raise our family, pay our taxes and all of our bills, donate to great causes, go to church or synagogue, own a home and have always paid for flood insurance even though our neighborhood never flooded during a rain event, and now are paying rent (and lots of it) to have a place to live and raise our family while building new homes or repairing damaged homes, and paying for that in addition to our rent.
WE truly are the victims who are caught between our local, state and federal government while they bicker and blame, yet seem to be mired in quicksand. Please continue to tell our story in a fair manner so that our fellow Americans realize that we are dealing with an incredibly difficult situation that requires a longterm commitment from not only us, but our government.

My name is Michelle Mason, and I am the CEO of Helping Hands of Jesus Ministry. We are brand new and just received our 501(c)(3) status. We would like to make our first project New Orleans. Please give ideas on how we can help. We are starting to raise money to replace homes using cargo containers that can be set up quickly and stand up to hurricanes while at the same time helping the environment. We need donations. I know we can make a difference, we just need the money to do it. For more info on us, see helpinghandsofjesus.org

Martin,
I am a native New Orleanian. I now live on the northshore and I am a dentist. I have seen many people who have relocated here from the city and esp. from St. Bernard Parish. They have lost everything and have faced the future with resolve and courage. When the lastest report came out that the Road Home is probably 3 billion dollars short, I had a resident of St. Bernard tell me that he wouldn't be surprised to hear that someone had FINALLY snapped and resorted to violence. Is anyone in Washington DC listening to the pain of these citizens as I do?

Informative, thought-provoking posts, all--especially Katrina John Doe's. I've also read online the Times-Picayune article to which Elizabeth refers. I understand that BEFORE Katrina Louisiana was already having serious problems with poverty--being one of the poorest states in the nation--and other things. And New Orleans prior to the storm was a deeply flawed city, with a high murder rate as well as serious problems with schools, poverty, etc. And the magnitude of Katrina's and Rita's destruction is such that recovery is too big a job for Louisiana, with her limited resources, to handle by herself. While it's obvious that Gov. Blanco, Mayor Nagin, and other state and local officials in Louisiana have been falling down on the job of seeing that rebuilding aid goes to those who need it and that everything's above-board, there's a governmental entity outside Louisiana that should be pro-actively working hand-in-hand with her officials in ensuring that help gets to those who need and are eligible for it, whose job it is to help people get back on their feet after disasters.

Which is the federal govermnent. And sadly, the federal government under the Bush Administration has been treating Louisiana not as a part of this country, but as a foreign adversary, following Katrina. And her people not as Americans. It started during Katrina when Bush, in a blatantly partisan manner, would not help Blanco, a Democrat. But the story gets even more sordid--the Bush Administration demanded that Louisiana get her act together (her politicians not having been able to agree on a rebuilding plan) and once they did agree on one, the Baker Plan (which, by the way, was devised by a REPUBLICAN congressman) which would have given Louisiana $30 billion for rebuilding, Bush first accepted it--but later backpedaled and rejected it. Ironically, in light of what the "Road Home" turned out to be, one of the reasons he rejected the Baker Plan was the idea that it would have created a large bureaucracy. Which is why the next step was "The Road Home" and its complex, monumental screw-ups.

My heart goes out to Mona Jones and the many others wanting to return to New Orleans, who can't afford to--who are caught in the "Road Home" morass--but have no idea what, if anything, Louisiana can do by herself to get ICF International to speed up the distribution of funds. It seems far too late in the game to scrap everything by dropping ICF and starting anew because people have already waited too long for funds and that would make their wait much longer. Nor do I know what Congress--in light of Bush Administration mean-spiritedness--will be able to do to straighten out this mess, that will survive a presidential veto. Because the Bush Administration seems to consider Katrina recovery a low priority (note how it never came up in today's press conference) and the storm zone, especially Louisiana, expendable.

The trickle down effect of the relief effort is like virga, upper level rain visible to radar but which evaporates before hitting the ground. It has been that way since the cleanup began.

My home in New Orleans was spared from flooding and all but minor roof/wind damage. I was able to return six weeks after the storm and eagerly watched as the army of cleanup crews set about removing debris. I eventually rented a spare room to a man who had come from Oklahoma to earn the high wages being offered. He was foreman of a "bobcat" crew of four hispanics who were also new arrivals.

By Thanksgiving he was complaining that no one at street level was being paid. He said they were given some cash periodically, but mostly promises that full payment "was on the way". The primary contractor got paid, the 1st sub got paid, etc. through four layers but seemed to stop before reaching his direct employer. By Christmas he returned home (as did many others), discouraged and owed some $10,000 by his employer. I don't know if he ever got paid.

The point is that this seems to happen in almost any enterprise associated with the recovery. For instance, a company in California was hired to provide property appraisals for the "Road Home" program and hired a Florida company which then hired licensed Louisiana appraisers to do the work.

Nearly two years later the people who are being taken advantage of are the citizens themselves, who in many cases lost everything and do not have the means to rebuild on their own. Unlike my brief tenant who picked up and moved back home to Oklahoma these people have no home to go to. Like the example in your blog--they are stuck in place.

I still own my home in New Orleans although temporarily residing in Long Beach, CA.

As The Times-Picayune reported today, the main conflict in the Road Home debacle lies between the feds and the state. The Feds say the missing money is due to the state’s misappropriation of eligible insurance claims (those with wind damage were not suppose to be covered) and the state says the system is crippled due to a miscalculation of underpaid insurance settlements.
As the finger pointing continues, we just want to know how in the world a $3 billion shortfall is possible. I am looking forward to your report, and appreciate your attentiveness to the people and pride of New Orleans.

FRAUD?

The BIGGEST fraud committed involving money and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita should be cause for the indictment and conviction of the federal agency officials who have awarded no-bid and other non-competitive contracts (rather, the corporate welfare, crony ism and kick backs) to companies and persons other than those affected by the disasters; who have directly or indirectly been responsible for thousands of illegal immigrants taking up residency throughout the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan Area and under-bidding bonded, licensed, tax-paying contractors and small businesses; the federal agency whose policies should be investigated and exposed for creating the illusion of fraud in the case of thousands of people who because of Louisiana culture were people who shared houses or buildings but still maintained separate households, and as a result, thousands of people are homeless, living like nomads, depressed, frustrated, dislocated, displaced and having to seek pro bono counsel to 'clear their good name' and seek assistance in obtaining even minimal resources that provide a 'hand up' as opposed to a 'hand out'.

More fraud: the hundreds of mainstream, nationally-known organizations and nonprofits that received monies in the name of assisting evacuees and that have held on to those resources for their internal use and gain, and established thousands of 'cases', obtaining people's personal information to the extent that the processes humiliate and degrade people and many who need assistance with daily survival have lost faith and don't bother to even apply although the needs across America are great.

Fraud? Here is fraud: the governor of Louisiana, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Louisiana Road Home program and all contractors. From Lake Charles to Kenner, La, Gentilly/Lakeview/Pontchartrain Park, Central City, New Orleans East, the Ninth Ward; to Arabi, Chalmette, Violet and much more, the people in charge have committed fraud and great negligence against the residents, homeowners and citizens of the State of Louisiana in its theft and misuse of Community Block Grant Funds that COULD have verified the title of any homeowner(s) who applied for assistance and simply awarded EACH legitimate owner in ANY bonafide disaster area $150,000 EACH across-the-board, operated through the regular state agency with any additional fees simply going to local title search companies. How much money has been spent on the commission, advertising and marketing, payment to contractors without even having a 30 day or 90 day performance requirement and review for terminating, modifying or continuing the contract and with NO CAP on how much money could be received by the commission, support of the commission, advertising or marketing, contracts? Think about it. The citizenry has to be FINGERPRINTED, investigated, researched, and held to minimal amounts of funding eligibility but everyone else has a party?

Fraud? public housing and denial of opportunities for those people, many of whom are elderly AND also THE WORKING POOR that cleaned the toilets and made the beds in hotels and hospitals, entertained tourists, waited tables, provided security and more; many of whom were denied, repeatedly, the right to organize as a union and to earn a livable wage so that they would have no need for subsidized housing... Fraud. More fraud? All of the THOUSANDS of school teachers, paraprofessionals, retirees, janitors, custodians, cafeteria workers who HAD a job, income, a pension, insurance benefits and more Before Katrina and were not given an opportunity to participate in any public, extended process to determine the costs, benefits, advantages, disadvantages or consequences of the governor and her henchmen simply dismantling the Orleans Parish Schools System without safeguarding the benefits for the retirees or the jobs for all of those teachers and workers. If even 10% of the individuals who actually received any kind of assistance committed fraud, I would be surprised. The millions and billions of dollars in abuse, fraud, incompetence, misuse, neglect, restricted or unrestricted assistance - cash or in-kind - is one that requires a tribunal of high crimes and all of those charged and deserving of conviction have already been seen on the national news.

Fraud: the mayor of New Orleans giving himself and his appointees pay raises while firing all of the city workers.

note: Home WAS New Orleans, now it is the road. city and state is an issue below as i have no real home anymore.

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