Advocates take the Gulf Coast cause to the Hill

Today marks the first day of hurricane season, and much is being reported on preparations happening along the Gulf Coast to prepare for stormier weather.

But Gulf Coast advocates have also been preparing another big push to shore up Congressional support for the Gulf Coast Civic Works program, a Gulf region recovery package that would create "green jobs" along the Gulf Coast for victims of past storms. Several hundred Gulf Coast advocates, including a coalition of civil rights groups, affordable housing advocates, and Hurricane Katrina survivors, headed to Washington, D.C. this past weekend to urge lawmakers to support the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act of 2009 (H.R. 2269). Supporters of the act participated in congressional visits to bring attention to the continuing human rights crisis in the region and the vulnerability of residents to future disasters as the 2009 hurricane season begins.

Coming almost four years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, the new legislation was introduced in early May. Facing South has reported that one of the major barriers to rebuilding and one of the biggest problems facing residents of the Gulf Coast post-Katrina is finding good jobs. The legislation, inspired by New Deal public works projects, would create some 100,000 environmentally-sustainable jobs and training opportunities on the Gulf Coast that would allow residents and displaced people to rebuild critical infrastructure in their communities and restore natural coastal flood protection.

The bill would also create a Gulf Coast Civic Works Commission, operating out of the Office of the Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, now scheduled to close in the fall.

As the Times-Picayune reported:

The commission would consult with local advisory boards, composed of local officials and community representatives, about which civic works projects to finance in each community. It would require local hiring and contracting in filling jobs, said Scott Myers-Lipton, a San Jose State sociology professor who has acted as the maestro of the movement. "Attempts would be made to reach out to the larger diaspora," he said.

If implemented, he said, it could provide a template for organizing disaster recovery. "If this is enacted, it could really serve as a model for the rest of the nation," Myers-Lipton said.

A similar Gulf recovery bill was first introduced in the House in 2007 but stalled in the last Congress. The new bill is gaining more allies every day, but it still faces a long road.

According to the Times-Picayune:

The legislation has enlisted an unlikely array of allies: from ACORN and Oxfam America to the New Orleans City Council and the Louisiana Republican Party, which a year ago passed a resolution stating that "empowering residents to realize their right to return and rebuild" is a moral obligation. The bill's 16 sponsors in the House include three members of the Louisiana congressional delegation: the lone Democrat, Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville, and Republicans Anh "Joseph" Cao of New Orleans and Rodney Alexander of Quitman, along with Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat who represents the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

But the legislation, which would bring an estimated $6 billion to $7 billion to the Gulf Coast -- a price tag consciously left out of the bill -- did not even get a hearing in the most recent Congress. And with even more water and recovery dollars over the dam since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, backers of the bill must persuade skeptics that the bill is not asking for too much, too late.

The legislation has yet to attract a Senate sponsor, and the most likely candidate, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has yet to be convinced it's the way to go.

President Barack Obama, who promised to do right by New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, has yet to so much as wink in their direction. He chose not to include the proposal in his massive stimulus package, even though the Center for American Progress, a kind of intellectual anteroom for the administration, had recommended including a scaled-down $1 billion, 15,000-job version of it.

Gulf advocates remain frustrated by the continued slow space of government action to help the Gulf, but they are not giving up. More than anything, Gulf Coast advocates are hoping that the Obama administration will honor its promise and commitment to the Gulf Coast by August 29, 2009 (Hurricane Katrina's anniversary).

Some of the issues advocates hope to see addressed include:

  • The development and implementation a permanent housing plan;
  • The establishment of a preventive disaster recovery plan;
  • The passage of the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269); and
  • An overhaul the Stafford Act.

The bill's Congressional supporters have stepped up this week. Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), Rep. Joseph Cao (R-LA), Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-LA), Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) sent a bipartisan "Dear Colleague" letter to every member of Congress today urging them to mark the beginning of Hurricane season by co-sponsoring the act.