- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. — The employment agency didn’t open until 8 a.m., but Noel Tabb, a Hurricane Katrina evacuee from New Orleans, arrived at least 20 minutes early and sat anxiously on the edge of a shaded bench.

“I need some income coming in,” said Mr. Tabb, 57, who jumped to his feet the moment the doors opened on a $62 million program that Louisiana introduced yesterday to temporarily hire up to 10,000 evacuees to help in the recovery effort.

At $9 an hour, the emergency work is not as lucrative as the jobs many New Orleanians held before Katrina wiped out their employers. But Mr. Tabb, a truck driver since 1968, said he needs to be practical now that his home has been flooded and he and his wife are renting an apartment in Baton Rouge.

“We’re not going to get desperate and just take anything that comes,” Mr. Tabb said. “But this is something to hold us over, until we can do better.”

Economists and local officials said the federally funded program — as well as hiring campaigns by local businesses and outside contractors — will help many displaced families, both financially and emotionally. But they said the program intended to help up to 10,000 people in 12 weeks, will need to be expanded to prevent a further exodus of evacuees from the state.

Similar programs are under way in three other states. Texas received $75 million in emergency funding from the Bush administration; Mississippi, $50 million; and Alabama, $4 million.

Loren C. Scott, an economic consultant and emeritus professor at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said the federal response was vaguely reminiscent of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an employment initiative authorized by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression in 1935.

“It’s kind of like a 2005 version of the WPA,” Ms. Scott said.

The evacuees who sign up will be put to work with nonprofits, relief organizations and churches to distribute food and clothing and to provide transportation and child care to others left homeless and jobless by the storm.

The Louisiana program will not place people in arduous and messy cleanup jobs, a segment of the recovery that has been left in the hands of private companies who won lucrative federal contracts, officials said.

“It’s strictly humanitarian work,” said Jacqueline Mims, director of the Division of Human Development and Services in East Baton Rouge Parish.

In other states, the emergency grant money can be used for demolition, renovation and reconstruction jobs, said federal Labor Department spokesman David James.

For its part, the Louisiana Department of Labor is using the emergency work force program to link the private sector with those looking for work. The employment office in East Baton Rouge has put unemployed evacuees in touch with federal contractors, including the Shaw Group and KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co.

Miss Mims estimated that half of the 800 jobs the state allocated to her parish would be filled by the end of the week. Since Katrina hit, nearly 3,000 people have filed unemployment claims in East Baton Rouge — roughly 10 times the normal pace, she said.

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