Months ago, Bush dropped in on New Orleans to assure us that the country would do “whatever it takes” to rebuild New Orleans “bigger and better.”
Fact is, we don’t even want “bigger,” just “better.” Every New Orleanian knows our beloved city is going to be half its former size, but we want what comes back to be in better shape than the whole we had before. I wouldn’t think that’s too much to ask, but apparently it is.
The White House has decided to oppose the Baker bill, a homeowner bailout bill that is essential to Louisiana’s recovery. Republican Representative Richard Baker’s bill is pretty simple: it would set up a governmental agency to buy flood-damaged homes for resale to developers. It’s meant to ensure that rebuilding is given some direction and that, despite the fact that only about half of New Orleanians are coming back, we’re not going to be surrounded by abandoned, rotting homes.
(For more on the bill and it’s history, go here, here, and/or below.)
Bush and Donald Powell, the administration’s head of hurricane recovery, maintain that the bill isn’t necessary because Louisiana is receiving block grants to address the problem. They say Mississippi is making do with the block grants, but that ignores the fact that less than half as many homes were affected in Mississippi, and the damage to hospitals, schools, businesses and other infrastructure in Louisiana is exponentially higher. And yet, the block grants are approximately the same. They say that money should be more than enough, but their math is way off.
In Louisiana, an estimated 80,000 homes without insurance were damaged by Katrina and Rita, another 140,000 with insurance. However, Bush and Powell think the block grants should be concentrated on owner-occupied homes outside the flood zone, or about 20,000 homes. Sure, if you’re limiting yourself to helping out 20,000 instead of more than ten times that, absolutely the block grant should cover it. Never mind my friends Gavin and Allison that own rental property, or my neighbors that have owned their house since it was built more than 80 years ago but live within the flood zone.
I guess the administration doesn’t want to help people that lived within the flood zone but didn’t have flood insurance because that would be rewarding people for not doing what they were supposed to. But the federal government, and flood insurance is a federal program, only requires people to have flood insurance if they have a mortgage. My neighbors, for instance, paid off their house a long time ago. They played by the rules. You want to require everyone to have flood insurance, mortgage or no? Fine. But that’s not the way it was before the federally built levees gave way.
During a press conference, Bush claimed that Louisiana needs to agree on a plan, and that’s the problem. Not to put to fine a point on it, but that’s complete bullshit. We have agreed on a plan, and the Baker bill is it. It’s a Republican bill that Democrats back. The Urban Land Institute agrees a homeowner buyout bill is necessary, and the Governor’s commission and the Mayor’s commission both came out with plans that incorporate the Baker bill. People have already started rebuilding their homes and neighborhoods with the understanding that the Baker bill, or something very much like it, would be passed. Baker has been negotiating with the administration over the bill since October, and for the administration to have allowed us to believe in this for months and then jerk it away isn’t just irresponsible and bad governing, it’s cruel.
However, it’s not sunk yet. Just because Bush doesn’t back it, doesn’t mean the bill can’t pass anyway. The bill passed a house committee last year 50-9, and has received positive feedback from House leadership. The House ran out of time before the recess last year, but Baker is bringing it back this year.
That’s where you come in. Everybody has been asking me what they can do to help, and this is it. I wish that the recovery of New Orleans, and the rest of the Gulf Coast for that matter, was something we could take care of locally, but unfortunately we need the help of the whole country. I need you to write or call your representatives and senators and urge them to pass the Baker bill. Send this to everyone you know and ask them to do the same (there’s a little email icon at the end of this – it’s so simple!).
Why do I want you to do this? Because when you come to visit, I don’t want you to be sitting in my house in the middle of stinking, dangerous, deserted blight. That would make for a pretty crappy Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest. Don’t make me beg, people.
This goes double for everyone in Virginia. Rep. Tom Davis (Republican) is chairman of the Select Committee on Katrina (for other committee members, go here), and he’s skeptical. He wants “market forces” to dictate rebuilding, but market forces will lead to exactly what we don’t need – homes rebuilt here and there, surrounded by abandoned, foreclosed rot. This guy needs to be leaned on, and let him know that if he won’t help, you’ll vote him out.
Recently, I’ve decided to be a one-issue voter. Plenty of people spend their entire lives voting on one issue, so I figure basing all my decisions on the recovery for four years is pretty reasonable. As Bush said, “You’re either with us, or against us.” And when he came out against the Baker bill, Bush demonstrated that despite his rhetoric, he’s against us.