6.25.2008

FEMA squandered $85 mil in post-storm supplies

Finalcall.com National News
FEMA squandered $85 mil in post-storm supplies
By Jesse Muhammad, Staff Writer

http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_4895.shtml


Will the people depend on FEMA again? (FCN, 06-17-2007)
(FinalCall.com) - According to an investigation led by CNN, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave away approximately $85 million in household goods intended for Hurricane Katrina victims.

Those supplies, which ranged from basic kitchen goods to sleeping necessities, sat in warehouses for over two years before FEMA began giving the items away to federal and state agencies this year, the cable news network reported.

James McIntyre, FEMA’s press secretary, stated in an email to CNN that storage fees were costing FEMA more than $1 million a year and another agency wanted the warehouses torn down. “We needed to vacate them,” he wrote.

“Upon review of our assets and our need to continue to store them, we determined that they were excess to FEMA’s needs; therefore, they are being excessed from FEMA’s inventory,” Mr. McIntyre further wrote.

FEMA officials said many of the items were donations from companies after Katrina. In all, FEMA has given away 121 truckloads of items away to cities, schools, fire departments and food banks. The agency also pointed out that Louisiana was one of the states that turned down the giveaways once they decided to remove the stock.

Martha Kegel, executive director of the grassroots group Unity of Greater New Orleans, expressed shock when learning about the existence of the supplies and the giveaway.

“These are exactly the items that we are desperately seeking donations of right now—basic kitchen household supplies,” said Ms. Kegel. “FEMA, in fact, refers homeless clients to us to house them. How can we house them if we don’t have basic supplies?” she asked on CNN.

The organization is one of many that have been assisting Katrina survivors since 2005 when massive flooding eclipsed 80 percent of the city of New Orleans and took the lives of nearly 2,000 people along the Gulf Coast.

Ms. Kegel said FEMA never mentioned to her group or any other organizers in the city that it had tens of millions of dollars worth of brand-new items meant for storm victims, such as 54-year-old Debra Reed.

“An honest person like me didn’t get nothing,” said Ms. Reed to CNN. She recently moved from a tent beneath a New Orleans bridge to a home with the help of the group. “I’m gonna turn, ‘cause I’m gonna cry. I didn’t get nothing. I fought to get my money, but they wouldn’t give it to me. So I ended up going under the bridge,” she told a CNN reporter.

When asked if FEMA believed Katrina victims no longer needed the items, Mr. McIntyre wrote: “If the state did not request the supplies, then FEMA would not know.”

John Medica, director of the Louisiana Federal Property Assistance Agency in Baton Rouge, said he was unaware that Katrina victims were still in need, which Ms. Kegel found hard to believe.

Video clips showed pallets at a Fort Worth warehouse piled high with buckets, boots, cleansers, mops, brooms, tents, lanterns and camp stoves for victims, as well as clothing, bedding, plates and utensils.

Federal agencies that received items included the Bureau of Prisons, Postal Service, Border Patrol, the National Guard, U.S. Marshals Service, the Air Force and Navy and the departments of Agriculture, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

Homelessness persists in New Orleans

Though he later said it was meant as a joke, Mayor Nagin recently told some convention goers the solution to homelessness is one-way bus tickets out of his city.

“What kind of solution is this? Homelessness is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed. It is a catastrophe that 12,000 people are living on the streets of New Orleans,” said Jeff Crouere, NOLA.com political commentator.

“The homeless problem cannot be solved with one-way tickets out of town, but it does need to be addressed. Here is where true political leadership could play a major role, but, unfortunately, that commodity is in short supply in New Orleans.”