Friday, October 31, 2008

Your Tax Dollars at Work (Katrina Recovery Edition)

This one will make your blood boil.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the government providing temporary housing for thousands of storm victims. Some wound up in those infamous FEMA trailers; others found loding in hotels and motels along the coast.

More than three years later, some of those left homeless by the disaster are still living in hotels--on the taxpayer's dime--and show little interest in leaving their comfortable accommodations.

Andrea Ramey, a reporter for WPMI-TV, the NBC affiliate in Mobile, Alabama, has been investigating these "extended stays"-- which also come with free meals. Here's a portion of what she discovered:

It's been three years since Katrina and the relief is still flowing, with hundreds of families in Mississippi receiving all the necessities of life, all on your dime. We wanted to know how long the government intended to pay for this public assistance. So five months ago, we began to investigate at the Quality Inn in Biloxi. It's at that hotel where three years later, victims of Hurricane Katrina still receive free housing and three meals a day, giving some little motivation to get back on their feet.

And it's where we first met Gwenester Malone. Left homeless by the storm, she was living rent free. Courtesy: the American taxpayer.

"Do you work?" asked Ramey.

"No. I'm not working right now," said Gwenester Malone.

Back in June, Gwenester told us she didn't have a car, and it was too hot outside to find work within walking distance.

"Since the storm I haven't had any energy or pep to go get a job, but when push comes to shove, I will," said Malone.

Apparently, push finally did come to shove for Malone. Five months later we discovered Gwenester had finally left the Quality Inn, this after two 30-day extensions of her initial FEMA benefits.

The cost for her 150 night stay: $11,250 charged to the American taxpayer, but for hundreds of families, push has still not come to shove. Lilly White and her friend Joe Daniels are still receiving FEMA aid.

"It's been wonderful. You know, nice service and all. It's been wonderful," White said. Storm surge washed away Lilly's apartment three years ago. At first, the government provided a trailer for her to live in. Now, it's providing a hotel room."Hopefully, another month, I'll be out of here, hopefully," White said.

That may be hard for them to accomplish. White and Daniels appear to spend more time enjoying the nice breeze and washing down a cold one than looking for an apartment."I haven't really went to put in any applications," White said.

Ms. Ramey also reports that some of the victims have complained about their complimentary meals, comparing them to "dog food." That must be some pricey Alpo. WMPI discovered that the food bill for storm victims has totaled at least $3 million so far.

FEMA Administrator David Paulison says his agency will terminate the hotel housing program next March. So far, the effort has cost taxpayers at least $10 million. Paulison told WPMI that ending the program is a "tough call" because FEMA doesn't want "to kick people out on the street." He refuted the station's suggestion that FEMA has become a "welfare agency."

We find it rather ironic (but hardly surprising) that this issue has been almost totally ignored by the national media--the same folks who assailed government inaction in the months after the storm. Three years later, with some "victims" clearly taking of advantage of the system, the national press corps has no interest in how our assistance dollars are being wasted.

Congratulations to WPMI (and Ms. Ramey) for tackling this story.

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