McKinney warns of new underclass of "Katrina Homeless"
By Rep. Cynthia McKinney
Feb 16, 2006
Senate Katrina hearings show litany of bad decisions (FCN, 02-16-2006)
[Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), made the following statement February
15, 2006 at the Select Committee to Investigate the Preparation for
and Response to Hurricane Katrina.]
Rep. Cynthia McKinney
Thank you once again, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to participate
in the work of this Committee.
And I thank Mr. Melancon, Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Taylor for their
participation in the important work of this committee. I know this has
been and continues to be an extremely difficult journey for you and
for your constituents.
I would like to thank all the Members who participated in this panel.
I hope a new working relationship will be the result.
Before I turn my comments to the reports, let me first remind the
Members that as we speak, there is a national emergency that demands
our immediate attention.
In the absence of decisive Executive action, an under-funded FEMA made
its own executive decision to shelter hundreds of thousands of
survivors in hotels, paying in some cases rates in excess of $400 per
night, resulting in a windfall for hotel chains during their slow
season, but depleting FEMA's budget. Now, with summer business coming,
the hotels want the survivors out and FEMA is evicting tens of
thousands of families from temporary housing.
As a result of the President's failure to act, Secretary Chertoff's
failure to act, and the failure of Congress to act, it appears we are
about to see a new underclass of "Katrina Homeless" in America, even
as Halliburton and other contractors take fifty per cent off the top
of their sweetheart, no-bid Katrina contracts before subcontracting
the work out at rock bottom rates.
Given the vast amounts of money that has gone "missing"billions of
dollarsfrom this Administration's Iraq misadventure, it is scandalous
that we won't provide housing to the survivors.
What Katrina survivors facing homelessness need is enough assistance
to rebuild their lives. Why did we offer a Victims Compensation Fund
to 9/11 families but not to Katrina survivors? And why hasn't the
Congress moved swiftly to pass or at least held hearings on HR 4197,
the Hurricane Katrina Recovery, Reclamation, Restoration,
Reconstruction and Reunion Act of 2005?
Among the findings in my Supplemental Report is the fact that what
left so many at the mercy of Katrina was poverty. In the greater New
Orleans area, 65,000 minority residents lived in poverty before
Katrina, compared with 85,000 whites. Thus, contrary to the
stereotyping, poverty is not specific to race, even though Orleans
Parish, which was 67% black, was hardest hit by the flooding.
The poor, the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, these were the people
who could not obey the mandatory evacuation order. If we wish to see
that there is never another disaster like Katrina, we need to take
urgent action to deal with poverty in this country. And here, I would
suggest that the Congress hold hearings on House Concurrent Resolution
234, Congresswoman Barbara Lee's Poverty Bill.
Evacuation plans failed these people, as did the National Response
Plan. We need a new National Response Plan. This is one of sixteen
recommendations in my report.
Rather than attempting to defend the indefensible, Secretary Chertoff
needs to resign and allow this Administration the opportunity to get
this straightfor the sake of the innocent people of the Gulf States
and New Orleans.
We need a National Response Plan that is sensitive to poverty and
ethnicity. It is unconscionable that DHS would have a partnership with
Operation Blessing, but not with a single black organization.
Poverty cuts across ethnic divisions, but there is another side to
this story. In the testimony at our hearings and in my report, there
is a very clear pattern. In numerous instances, whites were evacuated
before blacks while blacks were detained or turned back, as happened
on the bridge to Gretna. The media stereotyped blacks as "looters" and
whites as "takers" and fueled fears of blacks that led to the
"invasion" of New Orleans, shockingly by hired mercenaries.
Shoot-to-kill orders were issued in a city whose police have a history
of abuse, and who will spare no excuse to jail young black men for
Another area completely untouched by this Committee is the toxic
aftermath of Katrina. Decades of pollution has made the sediment layer
at the bottom of the Gulf and other water bodies highly toxic.
Hurricane Katrina lifted this sediment sludge out of the water and
spread it across all the affected regions of the Gulf. Not since
Hurricane Betsy in 1965 has this happened on such a scale. As a
result, arsenic and other highly dangerous chemicals are present at
levels sufficient that much of the Gulf Coast could be declared a
Superfund site. But the EPA is sitting on its hands, and will not act
unless Congress instructs it to initiate a clean-up process necessary
to protect the health and safety of the people of the Gulf Coast. I
have introduced legislation to accomplish this, and I wish this
Congress would consider it for the health and safety of our fellow
There is much more to discuss. We have between 60,000 to 70,000
survivors in metro Atlanta right now, and the needs are tremendous.
But let me conclude by saying that what we are left with is the fact
that while the hurricane washed its "toxic gumbo" ashore, it also
stripped away the veil that often hides issues of poverty and
persistent racism in America. We can choose to ignore these issues and
hope they go away, but we know they won't.
Alternately, we can rise to the challenge and work together to tackle
these very difficult problems head on. The choice is ours.
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