Monday, September 19, 2005

But Before I Head Out

I was reading this article from the Sunday LATimes about the broad inadequacies of FEMA and state government to deal with such a large evacuee/refugee population

The federal government's efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina have been hobbled by inadequate planning and coordination, troubled computer systems and confusion over who will pay the costs.

Interviews with federal officials indicate that recovery difficulties have gone beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency and span key agencies in Washington, where top officials are trying to respond to a huge reconstruction problem for which they had no policies or plans. Large contracts are pouring out of agencies, but the task ahead involves issues Washington hasn't thought seriously about since the 1960s.

Among the danger signals, cited by FEMA and other government officials in interviews:
  • Months ago, the Small Business Administration created a data processing system that was meant to revolutionize its delivery of disaster loans. But the system has stumbled badly because there haven't been enough new computers or staff trained to use them, and the central computers have been strained by the workload.
  • Officials at the Department of Education are only now beginning to address questions over who will pay what costs for educating tens of thousands of schoolchildren displaced by Katrina. Meanwhile, school districts inundated with evacuees have had to open shuttered schools and order portable classrooms.
  • Federal officials responsible for programs designed to help the poor are tangled in questions about rules that vary from state to state. Families that received welfare in Louisiana, for instance, may not be entitled to payments in Texas, where they have been resettled. And almost everywhere, funds for programs such as Head Start were stretched thin before Katrina hit.

But here's the part that really grabbed my attention:

Assistance programs for the poor that existed before Katrina struck have also faltered. For those seeking welfare payments, administered through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, results depend on the state the evacuee is staying in.

Some states, including Texas, are using a restrictive interpretation of the rules to deny welfare payments to families that received support in their home states, said the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"It's very troubling," said Sharon Parrott, the center's director of welfare reform. "If this problem doesn't get cleared up very quickly, families will run through the $2,000 they are being furnished by FEMA and could be left with no source of income assistance. At the moment, it's a state choice."

Head Start and child-care programs also face problems. Texas already had 29,000 preschoolers on its Head Start waiting list, and now applications are pouring in from evacuees whose children participated in the program in Louisiana.

"How are they going to be able to take care of the evacuees when they can't take care of their own people?" asked Helen Blank of the National Women's Law Center.

The programs, which depend on annual appropriations from Congress, have received none in the supplemental budgets enacted so far. Head Start was able to release $15 million from an emergency fund to temporarily take care of its most pressing needs. But that money will last only a month, and federal child-care support, which has received no funding increase in four years, did not have even that.

[ed note: emphasis added]

29,000 children already on Texas' Head Start waiting list. That is humiliatingly bad, especially for a former governor who wanted to be known as the Education President.


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