Thursday, December 1, 2005

Louisiana residents gave churches higher marks than government agencies in responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and most prefer that the federal government control rebuilding funds rather than local officials, according to a Louisiana State University study.

On a scale of one (not effective) to 10 (very effective), residents gave churches the highest mark of 8.1, and New Orleans city agencies and state agencies received the lowest rating of 4.6.

“Louisiana residents were not particularly charitable when it came to evaluating government response … but were considerably more favorable of the efforts of faith-based organizations and nonprofits, including local community foundations and the Red Cross,” according to the study.

Hundreds of churches and synagogues stepped up to help when municipal, state and federal governments faltered in their early responses to the devastation wrought by the hurricanes. They fed, clothed and sheltered survivors and raised more than $100 million to do so.

Nonprofits overall received the second-highest relief rating with 7.5, as did the religious-based Salvation Army, slightly ahead of the American Red Cross’ 7.4 rating. Insurance companies scored 5.2.

As for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — whose former director, Michael D. Brown, lost his job over the agency’s response to Katrina — and the federal government, which was criticized for its handling of the natural catastrophes, Louisianans gave them better scores than they gave both the state and New Orleans.

FEMA scored slightly higher than the federal government, receiving 5.3 and 5.1, respectively. But neither did as well as local governments other than New Orleans, which averaged a 6.5 score.

“First and foremost, the survey shows the tremendous generosity of Louisianans. It also illustrates that citizens recognize the tough road ahead … that rebuilding will not come inexpensively or quickly,” said Kirby Goidel, co-director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Laboratory and principal investigator of the survey.

The survey said 39 percent of Louisianans had a friend or family member stay in their homes, and 14 percent provided shelter to someone they did not know previously. Fifty percent said they gave money to a religious organization.

The majority of Louisianans, 54 percent, said the federal government should pick up the tab for rebuilding, and a 40 percent plurality said they trusted the federal government to have primary control over how funds are spent.

Only 23 percent said local governments should control the purse strings, and 27 percent favored the state as the watchdog.

“While some understand that budget cuts will have personal impact, they also expect the federal government to step up to the plate to cover the costs of rebuilding,” Mr. Goidel said.

When asked which was most important before moving back to New Orleans, 58 percent said protection from a strengthened levee system is most important, while 37 percent said rebuilding quickly should be the top priority.

And, when asked how likely it is that they will attend Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans next year, 14 percent said they definitely would and 53 percent said “not at all.”

“The New Orleans region consistently rated all levels of government more negatively than other areas of the state,” according to the survey, which is a bad sign for Mayor C. Ray Nagin, a Democrat who is up for re-election next year.

Recent political polling also shows Democratic Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco is in serious trouble. Only 19 percent statewide said they would re-elect her, and only 10 percent in New Orleans still support her.

“Breaking the results out by political perspective, Republicans rated the federal government significantly higher, 6.0, than state or local governments, 4.3 and 3.8 respectively,” according to the report.

“Democrats gave low marks to government across the board, 4.7 to the federal government and 5.0 to both the state and local governments.”

The LSU Public Policy Research Laboratory survey was taken Nov. 3 to Nov. 18 and had a 3.9 percentage point margin of error.

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