Five years ago last week, a massive hurricane struck the Gulf Coast, quickly proving to be the worst natural disaster in American history. On this, the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, let us take a moment to remember the people who lost their lives and their livelihoods as a result of the storm and its aftermath. All said, more than 1,800 Americans died, 1.5 million people were at least temporarily displaced, nearly 500,000 homes in Louisiana and Mississippi were destroyed or made uninhabitable, and more than 81,000 businesses were damaged or destroyed.
Exacerbating the disaster was the ineptitude of the Bush Administration’s response in the days immediately following the storm and the relief effort thereafter. What is worse, over the next year and a half, the GOP-controlled 109th Congress just stood by and watched – failing to enact much of the desperately-needed relief for Gulf Coast residents whose lives had been upended by the storm.
While it is important to recognize the inadequacies of the response the Katrina on both the State and Federal level, we should also take stock of the progress we’ve made in the past three years under Democratic leadership.
In 2007, one of the first things the Congress did was enact a much-delayed Gulf Coast Recovery Package. This package provided assistance to help bolster levees, restore the coastline, recruit teachers, keep schools open, maintain health facilities, provide housing assistance, and assist small businesses. As a result, progress was made and people’s lives were improved.
Almost immediately after taking office in January 2009, President Obama teamed up with Congress to enact further improvements to the Gulf Coast recovery process. Bureaucratic red tape was cut, expediting gridlocked Gulf Coast projects by implementing new processes to streamline and resolve disputes. To address the shortage of medical professionals, $40 million in grants were provided to bring 944 medical professionals to New Orleans for at least three years, as well as $7 million to fund community health centers serving more than 50,000 people. Since 2007, Congress has provided over $130 million for programs to mend the damaged and displaced local criminal justice systems ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
Over the last five years, much progress has been made – in large part due to the resilience and resolve of the residents of the Gulf Coast. Yet much work and many challenges remain. I will continue to monitor and support the relief effort for both Hurricane Katrina and more recently, the BP oil spill. While the Gulf may be thousands of miles from Northern Virginia, we are linked by our ocean, our land, our country, and most important, our humanity.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.