There is growing concern among religious leaders, public policy makers, and anti-poverty advocates that the Bush Administration has chosen a path in the Gulf Coast region that puts ideological allegiance to right-wing political goals ahead of relief. These concerns are mostly embodied in controversial social programs advanced by the administration (not to mention tax policies). It seems clear that this administration – which has witnessed poverty and hunger climb under their watch – is on a path to failure that will result in further harm to our nation. The Center for American Progress is tracking this disaster in the making:
Ideology Over People
The Bush administration turned Iraq into an ideological playground for right-wing economic policies. The results were disastrous. Now, as the people of the Gulf Coast face their own critical reconstruction needs, the White House plans more of the same. The Wall Street Journal reports the administration and its allies are plotting to use "relief measures for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf coast to achieve a broad range of conservative economic and social policies, both in the storm zone and beyond." Rep. Rahm Emanuel summed it up nicely: "They're going back to the playbook on issues like tort reform, school vouchers and freeing business from environmental rules to achieve ideological objectives they haven't been able to get in the normal legislative process." The victims of Hurricane Katrina deserve better.
“SEPARATE BUT EQUAL” EDUCATION: The Wall Street Journal reports that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will ask Congress to waive a federal law that bans educational segregation for homeless children. The Bush administration is arguing, along with states like Utah and Texas, that providing schooling for evacuees – who, in this case, are likened to homeless children – will be disruptive to public school systems, so they want to have sound legal backing for creating separate educational facilities for the 372,000 schoolchildren displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The State of Mississippi is opposed to waiving the Act because it argues the law helps evacuees enroll in schools without red tape.
LOWER WAGES FOR HURRICANE RECOVERY CONSTRUCTION WORKERS: On Sept. 8, 2005, President Bush suspended application of the Davis-Bacon Act, a federal law governing workers’ pay on federal contracts in the Hurricane Katrina-damaged areas. According to the Washington Post, the Act “sets a minimum pay scale for workers on federal contracts by requiring contractors to pay the prevailing or average pay in the region. Suspension of the act will allow contractors to pay lower wages.” Congressman George Miller (D-CA) said, “In effect, President Bush is saying that people should be paid less than $9 an hour to rebuild their communities.”
LOWER WAGES FOR HURRICANE RECOVERY SERVICE WORKERS: The Washington Post reports, “the White House was working yesterday to suspend wage supports for service workers in the hurricane zone as it did for construction workers on federal contracts last week.” The article notes that anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist “is among those lobbying the White House to suspend wage supports for service workers in the hurricane zone.”
LIMITING ELIGIBILITY FOR HEALTH CARE: Medicaid, “the federal-state health program for the poor[,] has emerged as the main way to provide medical coverage for many evacuees.” But the Journal reports that the “White House appears cool to any expansion” of Medicaid for Katrina survivors, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was “not convinced” it was needed. “To me, each day that passes without us knowing … exactly what the Medicaid relief package is going to include is adversely affecting not only our state … but other states who are getting our evacuees,” said J. Ruth Kennedy, deputy director of Louisiana’s Medicaid program, which provided health care to one-quarter of the state’s population before the hurricane.
THE GHETTOIZATION OF KATRINA VICTIMS: There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina and need housing. The victims of Hurricane Katrina could be given housing vouchers so they could rent apartments and integrate with the rest of society. But Section 8 housing vouchers, a program that was started by Richard Nixon, doesn't fit in with the Bush administration's ideological agenda. Instead, the Bush administration is planning to build giant trailer parks. The Washington Post reports, "Mobile-home manufacturers, responding to pleas from FEMA, are adding shifts for workers to supply tens of thousands of travel trailers and mobile homes." The administration is also "considering converting many of the nation's retired steel shipping containers into temporary mini-housing units."
THERE IS A BETTER WAY: The reconstruction and recovery of the Gulf Coast should be guided by commonsense policies that benefit people, not just political movements. American Progress has some ideas: 1) Guarantee adequate health care to all of Katrina’s victims by expanding the Disaster Relief Medicaid program; 2)Integrate the Gulf’s poor—residentially, economically, and otherwise by expanding Section 8 housing and improving mass transit; 3) Maximize employment of Katrina victims in reconstruction projects and provide training; and 4) Stop disaster profiteering through independent oversight and vigorous enforcement of laws against price gouging by oil companies, gas stations, and financial institutions.