Louisiana: Bush, Obama, Katrina, and New Orleans

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As the Obama administration prepares to dole out billions of dollars to residents of the Gulf Coast affected by the oil spill, it should review, if it’s not doing so already, what happened to the prior administration’s best intentions in the region. Following Hurricane Katrina, George W. Bush pledged nearly $15 billion to “create jobs and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again.” Louisiana, which suffered the worst damage, received more than half of that money. But five years later, much of it has gone to the state’s oil industry, not the ravaged people of New Orleans. The city has received less than 1 percent of the more than $5.9 billion in bonds issued statewide so far, and none of those funds went to the hard-hit and still-struggling Lower Ninth Ward.

At the same time, officials issued nearly $2 billion to projects that contribute to oil production, including $1 billion to expand a refinery in an area that wasn’t severely damaged by the 2005 storm. The projects have created some jobs, but that’s cold comfort for residents who continue to go without nearby grocery stores or hospitals. The mistake to avoid this time around is broadly written legislation that promises money, as politicians are wont to do, but doesn’t detail who should receive it.

Cohen is cofounder of the investigative news site The Lens (thelensnola.org).