Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FEMA's Katrina Saga Continues

It's been nearly 3 years since Hurricane Katrina yet the FEMA saga continues. Several months ago, USA Today reported that more than 75% of the FEMA-approved money for rebuilding Louisiana and Mississippi remains unused. FEMA approved $4.5 billion to rebuild Louisiana and Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina two years ago, but to date, only approximately $1 billion had been used due to red tape over local and federal rules.

Last month, CNN reported that $85 million worth of supplies intended for Katrina victims actually went to Mississippi agencies. Their investigation found that supplies went to prisons, colleges, volunteer fire departments, and other state departments. FEMA stated it was costing more than $1 million per year to store the supplies and declared them surplus. However, CNN does report that some of the surplus items are being returned for distribution through nonprofit agencies.

In addition, here in Arkansas, thousands of mobile homes and travel trailers intended to provide temporary housing to displaced residents following Katrina are still sitting at the Hope (AR) Municipal Airport (see photo image above). "FEMA spends more than $1 million a month to store and maintain the units at the airport, with payroll for 75 workers at the site making up nearly half the costs." There are more mobile homes and travel-trailers at the airport than there are residents of Hope, AR even though some of the trailers were issued to tornado victims in Feburary 2008. The travel-trailers cannot be auctioned off "due to the presence of potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde."

In an effort to address the surplus of FEMA emergency housing being stored at taxpayer expense, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas introduced the FEMA Accountability Act of 2007. The bill passed a Senate committee last month (June 2008) and will go before the full state Senate for a vote. The bill would give FEMA three months to make a decision about what to do with the surplus housing units and six more months to carry out the plan. FEMA reports there are 19,604 units still at the Hope (AR) Municipal Airport. Sen. Pryor reports there are more than 111,000 housing units sitting empty in all. Hope AR is the second largest storage site.

In the meantime, FEMA is finding the 146 acres leased from the Hope Municipal Airport is not enough space to manage the mobile homes and travel trailers. FEMA has been approved to lease an additional 85 acres at $5000 per month. And the town of Hope, Arkansas' website states, "If you are interested in purchasing travel trailers that FEMA is storing at the Hope Airport, please go to http://gsaauctions.gov/ to bid on them."

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