Billions of Dollars for Katrina Victims Have Been Lost

One year ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans.  The result was devastating - in terms of property damage, loss of life, and broken spirit.  The hearts of the nation focused on the Gulf Coast, with Congress rushing to send the resources necessary for the relief efforts.  Regrettably, the recovery has been muddled and billions of dollars that should have been helping storm victims rebuild their lives and communities has been lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.

I supported the initial aid package of $10.5 billion to provide immediate assistance to citizens and communities that were reeling from this storm.  I withheld my support from a second aid package of $52 billion because I believed it lacked oversight and accountability necessary to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.  I supported two subsequent aid packages that included better oversight.  Regrettably, report after report - six independent government reports this year alone - has confirmed that the mechanisms were not in place to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse from diverting funds from the people who needed it the most.

Furthermore, though Congress approved a total of $125 billion for the clean-up and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast communities, after a full year, only a portion of that relief aid has even been spent, leaving this region far from recovered.  A sizeable portion of the aid was used to merely feed the bureaucracy and meet administrative requests.  Most disconcerting is that FEMA has does not have the necessary mechanisms in place for tracking how much money is obligated or actually spent in the relief efforts.  With dozens of Federal agencies involved, each with its own tracking, rules, and timelines, the necessary oversight is nowhere to be seen.  This has been a costly lesson, but I am hopeful that the next time a storm hits our shores we will be better prepared to be meet the needs of the communities and people affected by it.  True compassion means ensuring that the resources we rush to their aid actually reach them.