President Bush Returns to New Orleans
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
NPR White House correspondent David Greene covered that speech in 2005, and he is watching the president's return to New Orleans today.
David, good morning.
DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: He spoke of the city rising again. What progress can the president point to?
GREENE: Well, in large part, the president and the White House point to money. The president promised, you know, support in that speech in Jackson Square. The federal government has provided $116 billion and most of that has been tapped.
Now, a lot of that money was for disaster relief, not for rebuilding. But Mr. Bush's point man for Gulf Coast recovery Don Powell was on Air Force One last night and stressing the federal government is paying to strengthen the levees in the city. And one of the programs the feds are paying for is called Road Home. That's the direct assistance program to people who lost their homes.
And there's one woman I actually called up yesterday. Her name is Ethel Williams(ph). She's 74 years old. And I've been following her story since the storm. The president visited her in the Upper Ninth Ward after the hurricane, promised she'd be back. And Mr. Bush asked if she'd cook him some gumbo once she was back in her house. And her house has been vacant and ruined for two years.
And now she told me she just got her Road Home check last week, more than $100,000. But she's one of the lucky ones, Steve. Out of the 184,000 people in the city who've applied for the money, only 42,000 have gotten their check. And it doesn't look like there's going to be enough money in the program for everyone.
So the population is coming back, there are encouraging signs. But the bottom line is, the city - a lot of the city still looks ruined. And as people criticized President Bush, they'd say it's a matter of leadership. You know, he's been here 15 times but, you know, he didn't mention the city in his last State of the Union address and people say he should be doing more.
INSKEEP: And the president will be moving around the city where, what, about half of the population is still somewhere else.
GREENE: That's right. He'll be moving around today but not much. He's traveled around the city before. But this time he's only making a few stops. He came here last night and had dinner with Mayor Ray Nagin and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. They ate at New Orleans landmark, a restaurant called Dooky Chase. And it's still not opened yet, but they opened their doors early for Mr. Bush. They're re-opening in a few weeks.
And the president this morning is going to a charter school and he's having some meetings on education. And he's going to hold a moment of silence to mark that moment when the levees broke here in the city. And then he moves on after that to Mississippi.
INSKEEP: Although, you mentioned the mayor, Ray Nagin. I understand he's not going to be silent during that moment of silence.
GREENE: He won't be silent. The schedules as of yesterday were for Ray Nagin to actually be at a bell ringing at the same moment that the president is holding a moment of silence.
And, you know, Steve, I don't think we can help seeing some sort of metaphor there for the level of coordination between the federal government and local officials here. And, you know, still yesterday the White House was pointing out what their responsibility is, what the responsibility is of state and local officials. There's still this bickering going on about who's to blame.
And I have to say that the frustration in the city is not just for President Bush. There's - Democrats aren't spared. There's a lot of general frustration at the political establishment in the sense of, if we're going to move on, it's going to be without guaranteed support from our government.
INSKEEP: David, good talking with you.
GREENE: You too, Steve.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent David Greene.
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