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Pelosi: Katrina Response a scandal of incompetence and cronyism

From the Office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi

February 8, 2006

Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts and other Democrats today at a hearing this afternoon on the housing crisis facing Gulf Coast communities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

More than 400 Katrina survivors attended the session, with several testifying about the Bush Administration's failed response. Below are Pelosi's remarks:

"Good afternoon, I am very pleased to welcome all of you to the Capitol of the United States. We are honored by your presence.

We need to hear your stories because nothing will speak more eloquently to the needs of the people affected by Katrina and the other hurricanes than you.

"Your testimonials will be our inspiration; will be our documentation, our justification, as to how we go forward. My friends, I extend the warmest of welcomes to you. I know you have traveled by bus for more than 24 hours in delegations sponsored by ACORN.

"We do not believe that the federal response today has met the standards of the American people.

"In the immediate days following Hurricane Katrina, I traveled to Houston to visit with survivors like you at the Astrodome and the George R. Brown Convention Center with my colleagues, Al Green, Gene Green, and Sheila Jackson Lee. There were thousands of people there and we heard the stories of many of them. But nothing said it more clearly to me than my own grandson. Three of my grandsons live in Houston and they go to school with some of the young survivors. My 4-year-old grandson said to me, 'Mimi, these children want to go home.'

"With Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader in the Senate, we met with the ministers, religious leaders, mayors, parish presidents, governors, and working people from the region. Many of you here were also on the AFSCME trip late last year to tell the story of all who were affected. And recently we heard from the group 'Women of the Storm,' who came to invite all Members of Congress to the Gulf Coast to see for ourselves so there can be no doubt in anyone's mind to the magnitude of the of the need.

"As you know, a picture cannot capture the devastation - though Congressman Charlie Melancon did a marvelous job at our issues conference last week with his 'City in Ruins' presentation. Members of Congress must see the destruction firsthand. I have asked the Speaker to follow up on a request from Democrats and Republicans for a delegation to visit the region. I hope that that will happen in the next few weeks.

"There is a scandal in this country - it is a scandal called Hurricane Katrina. It is a scandal about incompetence and cronyism; it is a crisis of failed leadership by the government in Washington. And you - the survivors, those who are committed to rebuilding your homes and communities, deserve the truth about what went wrong and why. And you deserve better answers.

"That's why Democrats have called for the creation of an independent commission so we can get the important documents that the Administration refused to release. Committee subpoenas are ignored, and as we have said, the Administration is hesitant, reluctant, will not investigate its own failures.

"But don't take my word for it. Just last week, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Bush Administration failed in its response to Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, GAO cited the Bush Administration for lack of leadership, excessive bureaucracy, and a failure to heed lessons learned from past natural disasters.

"For months, Democrats have been fighting here in Congress for expanded housing efforts to meet the needs of Katrina's survivors. Unfortunately, we have encountered opposition every step of the way, and that's why it is so critical that you are here.

"For example, under Representatives Frank, Waters, Melancon, and, Jefferson's leadership, as well as Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi, Democrats have called for 350,000 emergency Section 8 housing vouchers so displaced families can move quickly into rental housing outside the disaster areas. We did that successfully after Northridge earthquake in California in 1994. If it was good enough for the California earthquake, it's good enough for Katrina.

"Under Barney Frank's leadership in the Financial Services Committee, the Democrats succeeded in creating an affordable housing fund that would provide $780 million over two years, with the lion's share going to the devastated hurricane areas.

"You know what happened next? The Republican Leadership weighed in and blocked the bill. And you know why they blocked it? They said that if anyone received these funds they couldn't advocate for affordable housing. They wanted to muzzle you; they wanted to gag you; they wanted to take away your right to be here today to speak out for more affordable housing.

"The Republicans haven't even requested money to repair damaged public housing units in the region.

"While all of this is going on, people are still living in tents and inappropriate housing facilities, far from where they want to be. This isn't just about building homes; it is about a sense of community, a society, that people determine that when they go home it is home, it is not just somebody else's view of what that should be. We want it to be safer and that's a critical point today.

"The Small Business Administration is the place that you go to if you want to take out a loan to rebuild your home. Hundreds of thousands loan applications are still pending. SBA didn't have enough funding before Katrina, and it has not been adequately funded since.

"So whether you are talking about FEMA and the first response, which created a second disaster after the natural disaster, or this long-term recovery, it's a scandal.

"Our colleague, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who serves on the Financial Services Committee, but is also the senior Democrat on the Small Business Committee, will stay on the case until the SBA has what it needs to get the businesses and the homeowners of the Gulf region what they need to rebuild their communities.

"And if that wasn't all bad enough, the Bush Administration delivered even more bad news to Katrina survivors: the Bush budget. The Bush budget is a document that is not a statement of American values. It is a budget that meets the greed of some Americans at the expense of meeting the needs of the American people.

"What we want to see happen now, because of your visit here to Washington, and hopefully a congressional visit to the region, is a complete change of attitude. One of the reasons that the Republicans are not doing what they need to do here is because they do not believe in government's role in helping the needs of the American people.

"That's why FEMA is broken, because FEMA was supposed to be the link between people and government in time of natural disasters. It was broken because of cronyism and incompetence. But we have to change all that.

"Let us all be hopeful, that because of your outspokenness, your willingness to testify here today, that we will turn this around, that there will be a different attitude - how can we help, not how can we hinder the efforts.

"With an independent commission we can see what really is behind all of this, so it never happens again.

"The best message we can send to the world about America is to say, 'Katrina challenged the conscious of our country and the American people were up to the challenge.' Let's make sure that the American government is up to the challenge as well."




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