Louisiana extends its sympathies to Texas regarding FEMA

Our neighbors from Louisiana have offered some sympathy to Texas in the problems we have been experiencing with FEMA.

Here is an editorial from yesterday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Let’s hope that the new administration gives prompt attention to reforming the way that FEMA does business.

Old FEMA redux
The Times-Picayune editorial staff November 04, 2008

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has tried so hard to remove the stain of its Katrina performance that agency officials even took to calling themselves “the New FEMA.”

Many Texans trying to recover from Hurricane Ike, however, are discovering what New Orleanians already knew. In many respects, the “New FEMA” thing is just propaganda.

Seven weeks after Ike devastated the Texas-Louisiana coast, officials in the Lone Star State complain that FEMA has been slow to deliver emergency trailers, is arbitrarily denying aid to qualified storm victims and is burying local governments in bureaucratic red tape.

Welcome to our club. People in greater New Orleans understand the frustration and pain Texans are going through. We wish we could say that FEMA will fix the problems there pronto, but our own experience suggests otherwise.

It’s disturbing that FEMA continues to fail Americans more than three years after Katrina exposed the agency’s sorry condition. The agency has made progress in some areas, particularly in the level of preparation ahead of a storm as was evident during Hurricane Gustav here.

But the agency must do better with other basic functions after a disaster strikes. FEMA was expected to have delivered 370 mobile homes in Texas as of last week, just a fraction of the more than 5,000 needed. Out of 6,600 families who qualified for long-term rental assistance, only 500 had been referred to housing agencies, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Texas state Sen. Tommy Williams, who represents Beaumont and Orange, told the Chronicle that he has constituents living in their cars and in tents. FEMA offered hotel rooms, but not where his constituents live.

“Their strategy,” Sen. Williams said of FEMA, “seems to be to stall and wait these people out until they solve their problems some other way or just walk away.” The senator sounds just like a South Louisianian, circa 2005.

At least FEMA seems to have learned one lesson — to fess up when they mess up. Deputy FEMA Administrator Harvey Johnson Jr. admitted the agency’s Ike response was sluggish. “Within FEMA,” he said, “there’s a renewed sense of energy to redouble and triple our efforts, that we need to box some ears.”

Why are there still unboxed ears at FEMA, though? If anyone at the nation’s top emergency-response agency still lacks a sense of urgency, that person needs to find another job.

FEMA’s performance in Texas makes one thing clear. Whoever wins today’s presidential election must make FEMA reform a priority so the agency can live up to its mission. For their part, officials in Texas should join their counterparts in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states and push Congress to streamline the Stafford Act, which governs emergency response.

Louisianians know the anger Texans are feeling. If they hang on to it, maybe we can all use it to prevent this from happening in future disasters.

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