New Orleans In the wake of the glancing blows from Hurricane Gustav and the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans and almost 2 million people in south Louisiana, citizens are still learning about the huge gaps in dealing with a government that is bureaucracy centered, rather than people focused. The latest fiasco that surprisingly has been bad enough that it has received front page coverage in the local paper has involved processing people effectively for emergency food stamps in the wake of the hurricane.
Almost 80,000 people have been processed in the last several days. Originally people were told they only had a week of apply. Lines were so bad in outside, sweltering conditions that the state in effect created humanitarian crises while supposedly being tasked to handle a humanitarian crisis. Worse, after many hours in lines, inadequate staffing and not enough applications meant that thousands were sent home. Bad communications led to police directing applicants to wrong locations and creating additional bottlenecks. It was a mess. New Orleans ACORN organizers and leaders set up tables in the Convention Center to assist in the process and to work with families. The Governor to his credit says heads will roll. The state managed to beg an extra week from the feds to extend the application period.
Not enough. Big talk. Slow walk.
The problem is bigger than this. There was a mandatory evacuation. We are a poor city. Families were stuck with gas bills, hotel charges, eating out, and car breakdowns while on the run from the hurricane. Many are reporting having to spend an average of $1000 to evacuate. Poorer families did not have that cash, but spent rent money, utility money, and anything they could scrape together to run. The lesson from Katrina was leave. They left.
Emergency food stamps are a program designed by the feds and implemented by the state.
All of this mess is caused by the federal requirement that no one has been willing to waive requiring a face-to-face contact between the applicant and the staff person. This is ridiculous when we can easily put together even better technical substitutes.
Worse the feds are NOT allowing the hurricane expenses to be counted as part of the income tests to qualify for the emergency food stamps. That is just stupid. Families on the edge that are being forced below the income line by the forced evacuation cannot use their real bills to count as part of their cost basis to qualify for emergency food stamps.
Organizations like ACORN and others that understand and care about the issues of lower income families need to step up and fix this with their Congressional delegations and directly with the USDA. Lines come and go, but fundamental injustice must be fixed permanently.