The Financial and Political Aspects of Disaster Relief

Disasters like the tsunami and Hurricane Katrina routinely demonstrate the best of human nature, and unfortunately, the worst as well. The unbelievable charity of average people, the heroism of the man on the street, and the scope of private response to natural catastrophes boggles the mind, giving everyone hope in the face of calamity. While private efforts are lauded, public and governmental efforts are vilified and, out of necessity, limited.

Even before the winds and rains of Katrina had passed from the Gulf Coast, the finger-pointing and blame gaming began. Those on the liberal left blamed the Bush Administration for its insensitivity and lack of response. Those on the conservative right blame Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for failing to initiate their own disaster mitigation and relief efforts. The truth, as it is with most matters, likely falls somewhere in between. The sheer magnitude of the event practically guarantees enough blame to go around and then some.

Despite the cries of some commentators and politicians on both sides of the aisle, every major event, every disaster and every issue has political overtones and undercurrents. After all, the inescapable fact remains that politics will play a role in the evaluation of the Hurricane Katrina response. But while government efforts focus now on aiding victims and clean-up and rebuilding operations, other factors begin to creep into the picture; factors that will carry even more political consequences for the future.

Hundreds of thousands of victims are receiving substantial governmental aid. In fact, rumors are circulating of evacuees commenting that they have never had it so good, with food and shelter being provided to them at no cost. Some of these evacuees are reportedly considering not giving up their now cushy (relatively so) existence on the governmental dole. To be sure, these victims need immediate help, but at what point do we as a government and a society say, "We have helped you enough. You need to help yourself now."

In many ways, the generosity of the American government will be tested in the months to come. The aid being offered in this case is not short term. It is not a matter of a few days or weeks. Rather government aid and shelter may continue for months for many people. As the rebuilding efforts continue, the government will have to cut off aid to evacuees, as cold as it sounds, it must be done. But here comes the rub, in many cases governmental aid to citizens is viewed as a right and a property interest that cannot be denied or removed without due process of law, meaning a hearing held to determine if the person no longer is entitled to the aid. This question is not without its potential political fallout.

The simple racial make-up of New Orleans, roughly two-thirds black, lends itself to a race baiting complaint that by cutting off aid at some point in the future, the government (read the Bush Administration) is callously denying aid to poor blacks. Further, if aid is cut off, whether done so summarily or not, the Left will claim that aid was slashed to pay for the war in Iraq or to demean the citizens of New Orleans or any number of ludicrous charges. In truth, governmental aid is not and should not be infinite.

Complicating matters will be the generosity of the states. States like Texas, Arkansas and others, who have taken in thousands of evacuees, providing access to schools, hospitals, and other services, can ill-afford to continue to provide such aid indefinitely. At some point, there will come a time when those states will ask for assistance or even reimbursement from the federal government. How should the federal government respond then? Deny the request? Pay the request? Congressional action may be necessary, but the choice will be hard.

Hurricane Katrina's effects obviously extend beyond the floodwaters or New Orleans or the devastation of Biloxi. The economic impact is being felt in immediate terms and discussed for the long term. But when events of this magnitude occur, the question remains—what are the practical limits on governmental aid? How do we provide that aid without bankrupting the state and federal governments? This is the proper political question to ask, not who is to blame. The answer can only come from ourselves.

Posted by Matt Johnston at September 7, 2005 1:18 PM
Comments
Comment #78769

i think (and maybe it’s just my cynicism showing) it’s safe to say that had this been an election year, Bush would have had FEMA and the National Guard deployed much, much sooner.

Posted by: john trevisani at September 7, 2005 1:33 PM
Comment #78775

Barbara Bush got grief for high browed insensitivity but she was right. The evacuees are doing just fine. And by the time this overly sensitive country gets done doling out the dough, those who were below the poverty level will be living the high life.

That’s what we do in this country. We make millionaires of select groups of grievers. Reference the already wealthy 9/11 relatives who were given millions knowing that it was not intended to make them feel better.

Posted by: Schwamp at September 7, 2005 2:02 PM
Comment #78776

Reconstruct the tax base, for starters. Get some people housed and some businesses started, even if both have to start out in trailers. The key with economic recovery is the flow of money through the system. That is going to be the most painful and problematic of the reconstruction efforts.

A good idea there would be to work from the edges of less devastated areas towards the more devastated areas.

We cannot wait for the market to take its natural course, because by definition, the depopulation and devastation removes the economic base. How great the aid is a good question, but the crucial question is where to start with such aid. Case Studies of previous disaster recoveries, the good and the bad, might help lend some perspective to that.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 7, 2005 2:04 PM
Comment #78816

Matt,

“Some of these evacuees are reportedly considering not giving up their now cushy (relatively so) existence on the governmental dole. To be sure, these victims need immediate help, but at what point do we as a government and a society say, “We have helped you enough. You need to help yourself now.”

Cushy huh?

When was the last time you slept on a cot in an arena, with no privacy, and no dignity?
Hell, when was the last time you slept on a cot?

New Orleans is closed. Do you get that?

The poorest amoung those affected by this tragedy are the least of our problems. And the cheapest to help.

Out of the Port of New Orleans flows the goods of the entire heartland of this country. Into the Port of New Orleans flows a good percentage of the petroleum that has become the life blood of this country’s economy.
Many of these folks that you blithely dismiss, as lowly as they may be, help to move the goods that keep this country running smoothly.

Oh, and BTW, at the moment they are all unemployed.

Posted by: Rocky at September 7, 2005 4:31 PM
Comment #78826
Barbara Bush got grief for high browed insensitivity but she was right. The evacuees are doing just fine. And by the time this overly sensitive country gets done doling out the dough, those who were below the poverty level will be living the high life.

Critique the message, not the messenger.

That is the dumbest message I have ever read on this board. Barbara Bush’s comment showed a complete and perfect lack of understanding what it feels like to be without. Here is what she said….

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this�this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them.

According to her, if you are poor its no big deal to lose what little you do have. In fact, you are better off in homeless shelter. Partisan and ideological differences aside, she can’t relate to a poor Democrat or a poor Republican.

Posted by: Darrius at September 7, 2005 4:58 PM
Comment #78834

There was a TV news spot today interviewing a guy in NO selling drugs to an addict for goods looted earlier in the week. The drug dealer had over $8,000 in his pocket since the disaster.

Evidently the drug dealer was getting $40 for 1 morphine pill. So the criminals are even gouging the addicts. A small crowd was at this location playing instruments, selling and buying drugs, celebrating, etc. I did not see a single one trying to help a fellow citizen in need.

I was concerned about this until I googled up the fact the NO is ranked the 5th overall most dangerous city in the country.

Posted by: steve smith at September 7, 2005 5:20 PM
Comment #78861

Bill Clinton had a great idea yesterday. He said the government should now plan on how it is going to facilitate employment for these people. Absolutely! Employment for victims would be a very compassionate act. Is Bush up to the task?

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 7, 2005 6:45 PM
Comment #78965

Anyone notice that some companies that employed these citizens are already working out ways to help them and get their jobs back? Both where they have been relocated to and back in the hurricane zone.
Many of the jobs will be their when the power is turned back on like the ones at the ports and the refineries. These people will need things like food and clothes so Walmart will open as soon as it possibly can.
Many people will have jobs due to the clean-up and rebuilding.
The government is not going to pay for everything.
The government will not have to ‘provide’ jobs.

Posted by: bugcrazy at September 8, 2005 11:15 AM
Comment #79014

bugcrazy said: “The government will not have to ‘provide’ jobs.”

There is a lot being overlooked by this statement. First will be the many 10’s of thousands who will choose not to return. They will need employment. And how do they get a job without papers lost in Katrina? There are many of these whose jobs in the oil and chemical industries cannot be found in their new locations. There are many of these whose jobs back home, won’t be replaced, and whose skills and education are not sufficient for new jobs elsewhere.

Yes, there is a lot overlooked in that statement.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 8, 2005 1:55 PM
Comment #79045

Maybe so, but…. there are some aspects that I have not seen mentioned here either.
Not all of those ‘displaced’ were without skills and/or job experience. Being spread out and not all moved into the same small area will be to their advantage.
Not all of those that chose to stay and ‘ride it out’ were on welfare or non-working individuals.
Not all who are involved in this disaster plan to return.
I don’t imagine those who get a check from the government each month care what their address is - just that they get their check.
Job without papers?? Just about everything about us - as long as we are in ‘the system’ is on a computer somewhere. These systems were not all destroyed.
I have already heard that driver’s licenses are easily replaced because of them being on file - picture and all.

Posted by: bugcrazy at September 8, 2005 3:42 PM
Comment #79081

bugcrazy, we are talking about some 400,000 plus people here. No easy task nor timely to track down all those records. Pres. Bush has announced measures to fast track the red tape, I think that is a great idea. Provided, he also stipulates that afterward, records will be checked and folks engaging in fraud against this honor system will be prosecuted.

Hadn’t heard him indicate anything like this yet. Hopefully, his attorney general will advise him of the wisdom of such a measure.

Posted by: David R. Remer at September 8, 2005 6:04 PM
Comment #79093

bugcrazy,

“I have already heard that driver’s licenses are easily replaced because of them being on file - picture and all.”

When was the last time you stood in line at the DMV?
Commercial licences require a health card be kept with the driver at all times.
Loans require copies of your taxes from previous years.

This is going to be a nightmare for some people.
While things are moving forward I don’t see this taking months, this could take years.

Posted by: Rocky at September 8, 2005 6:31 PM
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