Gulf Coast Continues to Struggle With Barriers to Recovery, Report Finds

Three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the pace of recovery remains slow, with more than 35,000 individuals still living in FEMA trailers, a new report from Oxfam America finds.

Released a week before a September 5 deadline for Louisiana residents to apply to the state's Road Home assistance program, the report, Mirror on America: How the State of Gulf Coast Recovery Reflects On Us All, found that barriers to a complete recovery are most apparent in the housing and job sectors. For instance, in Louisiana, where some 82,000 apartments were damaged or destroyed by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, officials are proposing to replace only 25,000 affordable units. And in Mississippi, federal money that was mandated for use in rebuilding low-income housing has instead been diverted to improving shipyards in Biloxi.

Moreover, while many workers living along the Gulf Coast cannot afford the rising cost of rent, housing, insurance, and utilities, they also cannot find the kind of jobs they need to offset their increased expenses. Only 12 percent of African-American evacuees who returned to New Orleans after the hurricanes were able to find work, compared with 45 percent of white evacuees. At the same time, compliance with federal labor laws has been widely ignored, with frequent occurrences of safety and health violations, wage theft, and exploitative treatment of immigrant workers.

To address these issues, the report calls on the next administration to create an Office for Gulf Coast Recovery headed by a federal coordinator; make sure all federally subsidized housing destroyed in the storms is reopened or replaced; require Gulf Coast states that receive federal recovery dollars to provide regular reports on the use of those funds; and ensure compliance with labor laws.

"The transition to a new administration is a critical opportunity to rebuild the Gulf Coast better and stronger," said Oxfam America president Raymond C. Offenheiser. "Not only can we help the Gulf Coast recover, we can take the opportunity of the rebuilding effort to address the long-standing root causes of poverty and vulnerability that existed in these two states long before the storms of 2005."