Checking Up on Federal Promises on Katrina

One year ago, President Bush made a speech from Jackson Square in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. In it, he made several promises to area residents.

"I propose the creation of worker recovery accounts," the president said, "to help those evacuees who need extra help."

NPR White House correspondent David Greene reviews how the process has worked.

Progress Report for Jackson Square Promises

President George Bush addresses the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 2005 i i

hide captionPresident George Bush addresses the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 2005. He promised one of the biggest rebuilding efforts the world has ever seen in the disaster zone.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
President George Bush addresses the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 2005

President George Bush addresses the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans on Sept. 15, 2005. He promised one of the biggest rebuilding efforts the world has ever seen in the disaster zone.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Jackson Square Speech

Speaking from New Orleans' French Quarter a year ago, President Bush outlined a number of federal programs to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. A summary of some of the major pledges — and the progress made on them — follows.

Economic Development

Bush's Promise: "Within [a Gulf Opportunity Zone for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama], we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment, tax relief for small businesses, incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again."

Result: Enacted by Congress. Now, nearly $8 billion in tax breaks are available to businesses building or rebuilding in hurricane-struck area.

But the law has meant confusion for people trying to figure out whether they qualify.

And lawmakers had to resolve a dispute over whether casinos would be eligible. They compromised and said casinos could use tax breaks to do work on hotels, restaurants and other non-gaming property. Among those hoping to take advantage of the tax relief is Donald Trump, who has a stake in a new casino resort on the Mississippi coast.

Employment Assistance

Bush's Promise: "I propose the creation of Worker Recovery Accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job, and for child care expenses during their job search."

Result: Proposal stalled in Congress.

Affordable Housing

Bush's Promise: "To help lower-income citizens in the hurricane region build new and better lives, I also propose that Congress pass an Urban Homesteading Act. Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government, and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity."

Result: Proposal also stalled in Congress.

Volunteer Resources, Funds

Bush's Promise: "I've asked USA Freedom Corps to create an information clearinghouse, available at usafreedomcorps.gov, so that families anywhere in the country can find opportunities to help families in the region, or a school can support a school. And I challenge existing organizations — churches, and Scout troops or labor union locals — to get in touch with their counterparts in Mississippi, Louisiana or Alabama, and learn what they can do to help."

Result: The USA Freedom Corps' Web site has served as a clearinghouse, where users can find out where to send money and what volunteer opportunities may be available in various communities.

The nonprofit Foundation Center estimates that foundations and private companies have donated roughly $600 million to Gulf Coast recovery. Other estimates suggest Americans have given an additional several billion dollars.

Those amounts are dwarfed by what the federal government is committing. The Brookings Institution in Washington estimates that Washington has thus far committed $108 billion to recovery from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

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