FEMA Gives Katrina Victims the Shaft

Anyone looking for another example of the Bush administration’s incompetence and indifference to poor folk and communities of color?

Look no further. CNN reports FEMA has literally given away $85 million worth of household items originally intended for victims of hurricane Katrina. These items were largely purchased as “starter kits,” packages of goods meant to help somebody rebuilding their life in a new living situation (often a temporary trailer). The remainder of these goods came as donations, given by corporations and others in the wake of the tragedies (both the meteorological event and the federal response).

FEMA had been paying $1 million to store the goods and, according to their press secretary, “determined that they were excess to FEMA’s needs.” Even though there remain thousands of people living in less than permanent situations, an even more who continue to struggle as a result of their displacement and loss, no one at FEMA thought of trying to assess whether or not these items should go to the people they were intended to go to. No one at FEMA thought of contacting any of the community agencies who actually do serve these people. According to the story, they did offer these items to state agencies, including the state of Louisiana, who passed on the free goods.

These household items did go to some cities throughout the South and Midwest. FEMA did find people at the local level who wanted them, they ust never bothered to look at the New Orleans local level.

This story exhibits the clear and convincing pattern of the Bush administration’s incompetence. Worse yet, it exhibits a clear indifference regarding the identification and fulfillment of the needs of poor communities and communities of color. In the mindset of a President and his White House, this kind of indifference is not too surprising. But coming from the agency meant to, at least in part, do exactly this in times of tragedy and disaster, this is just an outrage.

FEMA lacks the kind of proactive empathy required of such an agency, and it is the poor and most marginalized who feel it most.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: If you are interested in learning more about the events surrounding hurricane Katrina, in particular on a human level, see Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts. It is powerful and important, a fantastic teaching tool on modern racism from a complex and multifaceted perspective.

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