A report released this week by the Government Accountability Office is critical of the way the Federal Emergency Management Agency administered an alternative housing program for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The methodology that FEMA used for the Alternative Housing Pilot Program deviated from most competitive grant programs run by federal agencies, and as a result unfairly funneled $275 million of the available $388 million to Mississippi. By taking a different approach, the GAO said, FEMA could have directed more than $140 million to three separate housing projects in Louisiana rather than the $74.5 million directed to one project that's still not underway.
The findings confirm charges made by Louisiana officials -- and that my colleague Chris Kromm and I reported on earlier this year for Salon.com -- that the politicization of the post-Katrina aid allocation process resulted in Republican-controlled Mississippi receiving disproportionately more money for the damage it suffered than its Democrat-led neighbor. As we reported then and as others have also noted, the irony is that Mississippi's recovery has been moving at a painfully slow pace for the neediest residents despite the fact that the federal government has assisted the state so generously.
This is what Adam Sharp, a spokesperson for the office of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), told the New Orleans Times-Picayune about GAO's findings:
"We saw something that walked like a duck, talked like a duck and now other branches of government are telling us it's a duck," Sharp said.
The GAO report comes on the heels of another study (PDF) released last month that also documents disparities in post-Katrina aid for Mississippi and Louisiana.
That study -- part of the GulfGov series from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government -- examined funds allocated through FEMA's Public Assistance program as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program. It found that the amount of federal aid provided to Mississippi and Louisiana through those programs has not been proportional to the amount of damage each state suffered, and that what it called the "sluggishness" of aid distribution continues to be the primary concern of state and local officials.