Monday, February 05, 2007

Blue Dog Relief Tally Reaches $750,000 for Katrina-Soaked Groups; Congress Acts to Help Keep Disaster-Stricken Communities, Small Businesses Afloat

As GoodBiz113 reported last October ["Louisiana Artist Brings Post-Katrina [Blue Dog] Relief to New Orleans"], George Rodrigue -- AKA the world-renowned "Blue Dog artist" -- has created a fund-raising initiative, Blue Dog Relief: George Rodrigue Art Campaign for Recovery, to help groups devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

To date, a portion of print sales -- i.e., We Will Rise Again, To Stay Alive We Need Levee 5, Throw Me Something FEMA [see image, above right], Cut Through the Red Tape, You Can't Drown the Blues and We Are Marching Again -- have channelled $750,000 to four not-for-profits:
* New Orleans Museum of Art [NOMA]
* Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross [ARCNO]
* United Way for the Greater New Orleans Area
* United Way of America

Wendy Rodrigue, George's wife, divulged to GoodBiz113 that another large gift -- as much as $100,000 -- is in the offing soon for NOMA, which is currently at 10% of its pre-Katrina attendance. "They have an incredible two-month show curated by the director of the Louvre, called 'Femme Femme Femme: Paintings of Women in French Society from Daumier to Picasso from the Museums of France,' opening on March 3," she said. "We will probably present the check opening night."

110th Congress Committed to Improving Fed Response to Major Disasters
Legislation aimed at addressing the problems exposed by Hurricane Katrina has become a hot topic in the new Congress. More than 35 bills have been introduced so far -- ranging from overhaul of the Small Business Administration [SBA] and Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], to appointment of a presidential commission to review the government's response to the storm and its aftermath.

It's difficult to handicap the bills' chances. But the new Democratic leadership of the House and Senate say they are committed to improving SBA's disaster loan process, making FEMA more responsive, approving critical Corps of Engineers flood-control and hurricane-protection work, and increasing the availability of rental housing in New Orleans.

The 2005 hurricanes received no mention in President Bush's State of the Union speech last month. Still, Donald Powell, the president's coordinator of Gulf Coast recovery, said that Bush remains committed to rebuilding the region "stronger and better than it was before Katrina and Rita." Powell added that it will take a "long time" to finish the work. So far, the administration hasn't embraced any of the bills related to Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into Louisiana and Mississippi in August 2005 -- nearly 18 months ago.

Here's a sampling of the bills introduced during the opening weeks of the 110th Congress. The measures would:

* Establish a presidential commission to chronicle the trajectory of Hurricane Katrina and the responses made by federal, state and local governments; estimate the loss of life, and physical and structural damage; and recommend corrective actions. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas., the bill's sponsor, said a commission with subpoena power could issue a credible report that will help avert failures the next time government faces a disaster like Katrina.

* Require SBA to extend to 18 months the time that a small business affected by a catastrophic event has to participate in a federally sponsored business-development program. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., said many businesses were forced to shut down or scale back operations after Katrina, and shouldn't be barred from continuing in SBA programs when they are ready to do so.

* Revamp the process for handling SBA disaster loans -- including increased use of private contractors -- so that future applicants don't face the huge delays encountered by Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast.

* Require FEMA to forgive $570 million in disaster loans given to communities such as New Orleans, which needed the cash to continue providing public services at a time when tax bases were decimated by hurricane damage. In past disasters, many such loans were forgiven, but the previous GOP-led Congress insisted that the Katrina and Rita loans be repaid.

* Authorize Army Corps of Engineers work on a hurricane-protection project between Morganza, La., and the Gulf, and the closure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, blamed for adding to the storm surge that inundated New Orleans.

* Establish a commission on "catastrophic disaster risk and insurance" to ensure that residents and businesses in vulnerable communities have continued access to insurance.

* Encourage nationwide availability of a 2-1-1 telephone service, by which volunteers and those who need volunteer help can learn of opportunities by dialing the three-digit number. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said the service can provide information about available food, shelter and vital services during emergencies -- especially when 911 systems are down.

Some bills are still being drafted -- including legislation by the House Financial Services Committee that would use profits from government-backed mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for rebuilding affordable rental housing in New Orleans. Another bill expected to be reintroduced soon -- after it failed to pass last year -- would authorize dozens of water projects, including more than $1 billion worth of flood-control and hurricane-protection work in Louisiana.

Sources: Newhouse News Service,

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