Govít, U.S. public canít forget hurricane victims, Charities officials say
WASHINGTON Ė Congress, the Bush administration and the American public must not lose sight of the needs of those who are still suffering from the effects of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Catholic Charities officials told a Capitol Hill briefing April 7.
"We will continue to be the best Samaritans that we can, but we need help from Washington," said Father Joe Rubio, vice president of community relations and advocacy for Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston.
"We need the bureaucracy to be more responsive," he told congressional staff members at the briefing. "We cannot just conduct these fistfights in order to get the kinds of support that we need from various (federal) departments to house and feed and help people redirect and start a whole new life."
Catholic Charities agencies nationwide have aided more than 300,000 victims of the hurricanes, including 87,000 children and 10,000 seniors. Catholic Charities USA has raised more than $158 million for short-term assistance and long-term recovery efforts by 75 local Catholic Charities agencies.
"While I'm very proud of the work that our agencies have done there, we have to also be mindful that our work has only just begun," said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "We cannot allow this catastrophe to slip from the minds of Congress, the administration or the public."
The officials encouraged members of Congress to come to the Gulf region to see the continuing devastation for themselves.
"You have to come see Biloxi, Miss.; you have to come see New Orleans; you have to come walk this journey with us to understand it," said Gordon Wadge, president of Catholic Charities of New Orleans. "We are a family as a nation, and we need you to walk with us."
According to Catholic Charities USA, 16 percent of the members of the House of Representatives and 30 percent of senators have visited New Orleans since the hurricanes.
With hurricane season less than two months away, the Catholic Charities officials said one urgent need is for better and safer housing alternatives to the trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The use of travel trailers in an area where there are frequent tornadoes and a new hurricane season approaching is dangerous," said Linda Raff of Catholic Charities of Jackson, Miss.
She said the building of so-called "Katrina cottages" costs $38,000 per unit, "as opposed to a reported $78,000 to acquire a FEMA trailer and have it installed on someone's lot."
"It makes sense to invest in Katrina cottages rather than unsafe FEMA trailers," Raff said.
With 200,000 homes severely damaged or destroyed in New Orleans alone, the $6 billion in funding earmarked for housing will not stretch far enough, said James R. Kelly, CEO of Catholic Charities of New Orleans.
"Catholic Charities spends a tremendous amount of time and energy and money trying to deal with the mental health of our friends and family, but they cannot truly heal until they have a home and a place," Kelly said.
There also is a housing shortage in Baton Rouge, La., where tens of thousands of evacuees fled after the hurricanes and where many are still arriving now as they try to return to Louisiana, said Deborah Roe, executive director of Catholic Community Services in Baton Rouge.
"We thought that if we screamed louder somebody would get the message we need housing," Roe said. "After a few months of going to one housing meeting after another," some funds were appropriated "but we need a plan," she added.
In addition to calling for increased production of permanent and affordable housing, the Catholic Charities officials asked Congress and the Bush administration to take several steps aimed at helping hurricane victims rebuild their lives. They included:
- Ensuring access to proper health care in the region.
- Giving social service agencies and community-based organizations greater flexibility to provide essential services.
- Rebuilding the safety net for low-income people.
- Ensuring that immigrants have access to federal assistance.
- Providing opportunities for small contractors and apprenticeships and training for young people in the region.
- Abandoning proposed budget cuts to nutrition, education, health and employment and training programs that would "further the devastation caused by the hurricanes and delay progress for families attempting to move back to self-sufficiency."
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Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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