The Cabinet secretaries received an earful throughout the day, with Southern University at New Orleans Chancellor Victor Ukpolo telling them that construction has been delayed in part because FEMA has required school officials to locate and use original decades-old elevator parts.
When asked for his “wish list,” he told Ms. Napolitano that the school was only 50 percent rebuilt and urged her to take the message to the president.
Later, the bus drove through the areas hit hardest by Katrina, passing flattened homes and overgrown weeds where neighborhoods once stood and a simple hand-painted sign: “Please help.”
The secretaries met a housing official who can’t afford to rebuild her own home because of skyrocketing rent, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ticked off $1.4 billion worth of projects that he said are funded but stuck in a bureaucratic backlog.
“I’m encouraged they’ve come this early in the administration [and] they were able to see with their own eyes and hear for themselves from people that are frustrated by the pace of recovery because of federal bureaucracy and red tape,” the governor said. “They met agency heads, they met families who have been delayed from coming home because of ridiculous rulings.”
Mr. Jindal, a Republican, said he wanted to offer specific examples of the obstacles facing the region.
Some schools have been required to document “every piece of paper and equipment” that was destroyed during Katrina, he said, and “that’s just not practical.”
State Sen. Ann Duplessis, a Democrat representing the Lower 9th Ward, said that when Bush officials toured the region, they always spoke about recovery efforts working within the existing FEMA framework.
“What I heard today was they recognize this system doesn’t work and to have the impact they’ve also got to immediately revisit their current systems,” she said.
Ms. Duplessis said that there was a wide gap between Mr. Bush’s promises and actions and that it’s a “hopeful” sign that Mr. Obama “did not spend a whole lot of time transitioning.”
“The whole thing has happened in less than 90 days,” she said.
Mr. Donovan said he was most “disturbed” when he arrived on the job to learn that tens of thousands of families risked homelessness because of missed deadlines and bad communication about funding qualifications. He urged families to call the disaster housing line at 866/785-3239.
The New Orleans listening tour included Southern University, a home rebuilt by a nonprofit and affordable homes built over the leveled remains of the Upper 9th Ward.
Mr. Donovan and Ms. Napolitano announced that HUD approved $438 million for Louisiana’s long-term disaster recovery plan for affordable rental housing, business assistance and coastal restoration; money for permanent housing for more than 1,000 homeless families; and funding to help seniors and the disabled pay their rent.
Earlier, the secretaries heard the “heart-wrenching” story of Lawrence Scurich, an 84-year-old veteran who waited three years before he could return to a rebuilt version of the home he loved. He wiped away tears as he showed them his home, one of a series that the St. Bernard Project nonprofit helped to rebuild.View Entire Story
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