Minority homeowners less likely to get fair insurance settlements

According to this AP report, white homeowners whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Katrina were three times more likely to seek help resolving disputes with insurance companies:

A year later, Louisiana residents living in white neighborhoods have been three times as likely as those in black neighborhoods to seek and get help from the state agency in their disputes with insurers, an Associated Press computer analysis shows.

The analysis of Louisiana's insurance complaints settled in the first year after Katrina highlights a cold, hard truth exposed by the hurricane's winds and waters: People of color and modest means are often disconnected from the government institutions that can provide it, or distrustful of those in power.

Although the insurance department sent their representatives to the city's nearly all-black Lower Ninth Ward, Roy and Doretha Kitchens were hundreds of miles away, having fled to higher ground.

"The blacks didn't complain 'cause they got tired," explained Doretha Kitchens, 58, who along with her husband accepted a $34,000 insurance settlement for their destroyed home, well below their $120,000 in actual damages. They say they eventually threw up their hands in despair, accepting what they considered an unfair offer, never realizing they could appeal to the state for help.

The article says that state and local officials tried to reach all homeowners to let them know they could get free assistance with their insurance claims. But their traveling vans could not reach those who had evacuated, their TV and radio ads and websites could not reach people without electricity or computers, and people without cellphones could not respond.

But even sadder is the despair and feeling of helplessness expressed by some who just gave up and took what they could get. On the other hand, the "blame the victims" crowd is likely quite pleased that the working poor have learned their lesson about depending on the government so they will be less of a burden on society in the future.