A year ago, we watched as one nation as our fellow citizens faced the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Every American wanted to do something to help our fellow citizens from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to revitalize that treasured region and rebuild their lives. We donated money, time, and volunteered to do our part, because that's the kind of people we Americans are -- concerned about our country, our neighbors and the common good.
But our values and commitments don't seem to be shared by the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress. One year ago, we saw how ill-prepared FEMA was. And now a year later, we see little progress by the Bush Administration as thousands upon thousands of Americans still can't go home, still can't find jobs, still can't find a place for their children in school or even a doctor.
The people of the Gulf deserve a response from their government that's as good as the American people. Instead the White House "recovery plan" starts and stops with public relations. In the meantime, the Gulf Coast sits vulnerable -- almost defenseless against the next storm -- with schools in desperate need of repair and displaced workers in need of help.
We need a real plan -- one that lives up to our values and ideals -- one that respects the history and culture of the vibrant Gulf and doesn't let it wither away.
Tell the White House to take three simple, critical steps:
rebuild the levees to withstand another Katrina
focus on rebuilding schools and colleges, and
extend unemployment benefits to displaced Gulf Coast workers.
These are clear steps that must be taken, and this administration needs to hear from ordinary Americans that the people demand it.
Instead of real recovery, the White House gives us false promises. But a year after the President's speech at Jackson Square, Katrina debris still sits on New Orleans streets. Forty percent of the city has no power, and half its hospitals and schools remain closed. Down the coast in Mississippi, some towns are seeing as few as five percent of their homes rebuilt.
While our fellow citizens suffer, the aid that Congress finally approved is going to waste. Sixty percent of Americans say that rebuilding funds have gone to waste and they are right. Last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) caught the Administration wasting parts of 19 rebuilding contracts worth $8.75 billion. Every one of those wasted dollars could have contributed to rebuilding peoples' lives.
At the same time, 23 percent of displaced Katrina survivors still face unemployment -- and Republican leaders stand in the way of extending their unemployment benefits. Colleges and universities on the coast struggle with $1 billion in damage -- and try to make do with just $95 million in rebuilding assistance. New Orleans educators do their best to pull their schools together while still needing 300 more teachers just to serve the students who've returned so far.
Our fellow citizens deserve better than the Republicans' neglect. We owe them a plan to fix the federal levee system that should have held, and that says in no uncertain terms that we can, and will, renew the Gulf Coast. Tell the Bush Administration to build levees that can withstand a Category Five storm, to rebuild schools and colleges and to extend unemployment benefits to Gulf Coast workers.
The Corps of Engineers told Americans last week -- a full year after the President promised us a levee system "stronger than it has ever been" -- that the New Orleans levees could unravel in the face of a new storm. It's no wonder that only half of New Orleanians have returned.
But if they did return to brave the weak levees, where would they live, and how would they survive?
Last year, Congress set aside $17 billion in housing aid to Gulf Coast homeowners. Only $100 million of that aid has been spent. In Louisiana, aid checks reached Katrina survivors just last week; in Mississippi, a scant two dozen aid checks have gone out. Local governments that relied on federal promises of aid to rebuild their fire departments and sewer systems have found themselves mired in paperwork with little federal help in sight.
Displaced survivors have gone without unemployment pay since June. Republican leaders have rejected $200 million to help Gulf Coast schools get ready to teach. And the Corps of Engineers has a plan in the works to build the New Orleans levees to full strength -- but which it plans to complete only in 2007 -- well after hurricane season ends.
We can't leave the fortunes of hundreds of thousands of Americans and the fate of a great city hanging in the balance. Please join me in telling Republican leaders to stop the PR games, and to take three simple steps: promise to build Category Five levees, extend unemployment pay, and rebuild the schools of the Gulf Coast:
Senator Edward M. Kennedy