news from the land of katrina

April 28, 2008 at 5:23 am (anti-oppression, new orleans, prisons, racism)

Dear God,

What is going on in this world?  How are they ever going to be able to give this much money 35, 000, 100,000, 150, 000 dollars back to the government?  They want to take away their homes so that a corporation keeps it stock prices nice.  Nice.  I am so sad.  And how can Nagin look at the incredilbe homeless population and say that the answer is to make it illegal to sleep in public areas?  How does that solve the homeless problem?  I cant imagine how can he sleep at night?  Well, I guess he is sleeping in a house.

10. KATRINA VICTIMS MAY HAVE TO REPAY MONEY ( GULF COAST , U.S. )

By John Moreno Gonzales
The Associated Press
Sunday 30 March 2008

New Orleans – Imagine that your home was reduced to mold and wood framing by Hurricane Katrina. Desperate for money to rebuild, you engage in a frustrating bureaucratic process, and after months of living in a government-provided trailer tainted with formaldehyde you finally win a federal grant.

Then a collector calls with the staggering news that you have to pay back thousands of dollars.

Thousands of Katrina victims may be in that situation.

A private contractor under investigation for the compensation it received to run the Road Home grant program for Katrina victims says that in the rush to deliver aid to homeowners in need some people got too much. Now it wants to hire a separate company to collect millions in grant overpayments.

The contractor, ICF International of Fairfax, Va., revealed the extent of the overpayments when it issued a March 11 request for bids from companies willing to handle “approximately 1,000 to 5,000 cases that will necessitate collection effort.”

The bid invitation said: “The average amount to be collected is estimated to be approximately $35,000, but in some cases may be as high as $100,000 to $150,000.”

The biggest grant amount allowed by the Road Home program is $150,000, so ICF believes it paid some recipients the maximum when they should not have received a penny. If ICF’s highest estimate of 5,000 collection cases – overpaid by an average of $35,000 – proves to be true, that means applicants will have to pay back a total of $175 million.

One-third of qualified applicants for Road Home help had yet to receive any rebuilding check as of this past week. The program, which has come to symbolize the lurching Katrina recovery effort, is financed by $11 billion in federal funds.

ICF spokeswoman Gentry Brann said in an e-mail Friday that the overpayments are the inevitable result of the Road Home grant being recalculated to account for insurance money and government aid given to Katrina victims.

Brann said there was a sense of urgency in paying Road Home applicants, and ICF and the state knew applicants would have to return some money.

“The choice was either to process grants immediately or wait until the March 2008 deadline (for submitting Road Home applications) before disbursing any funds,” Brann said in her e-mail.

Brann pointed out that 5,000 collections cases would represent a 4-percent error rate for the Road Home that is “quite good for large federal programs.”

Frank Silvestri, co-chair of the Citizen’s Road Home Action Team, a group that formed out of frustrations with ICF, sees it far differently.

“They want people to pay for their incompetence and their mistakes. What they need to be is aggressive about finding the underpayments,” he said. “People relied, to their detriment, on their (ICFs) expertise and rebuilt their houses and now they want to squeeze this money back out of them.”

The prospect of Road Home grant collections comes less than two weeks after the Louisiana inspector general and the legislative auditor said they were investigating why former Gov. Kathleen Blanco paid ICF an extra $156 million in her waning days in office to administer the program. With the increase, ICF stands to earn $912 million to run Road Home, a contract that also sweetened its initial public stock offering, and helped it buy out four other companies. It now reaches into government contracting sectors that include national defense and the environment.

Paul Rainwater, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state body that asked for the Blanco-ICF investigations, acknowledged the collections could be painful for applicants, many of whom have used up their nest eggs to rebuild.

“The state must walk a fine line of treating homeowners who have been overpaid with fairness and compassion and ensuring that all federal funds are used for their intended purpose,” said Rainwater, an appointee of new Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Upon receiving money from Road Home, grantees sign a batch of forms, including one that says they must refund any overpayments.

Melanie Ehrlich, co-chair of Citizen’s Road Home Action Team, which has documented Road Home cases that appear littered with mistakes, said she had no confidence that ICF had correctly calculated overpayments. She charged that the company was more likely using collections as retribution against people who had appealed their award amounts in effort to get the aid they deserved.

“I think they are looking for ways to decrease awards and that’s part of dissuading people,” she said.

Brann said applicants are told an appeal could boost or diminish their award. She called Ehrlich’s charge “a totally unfounded assertion.”

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11. NEW ORLEANS HOMELESS RATE SWELLS TO 1 IN 25 ( NEW ORLEANS , LA )

By Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

NEW ORLEANS — The homeless population of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina has reached unprecedented levels for a U.S. city: one in 25 residents.

An estimated 12,000 homeless accounts for 4% of New Orleans ‘ estimated population of 302,000, according to the homeless advocacy group UNITY of Greater New Orleans. The number is nearly double the pre-Katrina homeless count, the group says.

‘ROUGH GOING’: Homeless still feeling Katrina’s wrath

The New Orleans ‘ rate is more than four times that of most U.S. cities, which have homeless populations of under 1%, said Michael Stoops, executive director of the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless. The cities with homeless rates closest to that of New Orleans are Atlanta (1.4%) and Washington (0.95%), he said.

A USA TODAY 2005 survey of 460 localities showed one in 400 Americans on average were homeless.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin appealed to federal lawmakers this past week to provide funds and housing vouchers to help the city’s homeless problem.

The percentage of New Orleans’ homeless is one of the highest recorded since U.S. housing officials began tracking homelessness in the mid-1980s, said Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has studied homeless trends for more than 20 years.

“In a modern urban U.S. city, we’ve never seen it,” he said of New Orleans ‘ homeless rate.

Many of the homeless are Katrina evacuees who returned to unaffordable rents or who slipped through the cracks of the federal system designed to provide temporary housing after the storm, said Mike Miller, UNITY’s director of supportive housing placement.

There are also out-of-state workers who came for the post-Katrina rebuilding boom but lost their jobs, and mentally ill residents in need of services and medication, he said. Many of the city’s outreach homeless centers and public mental health services have been closed since Katrina.

Nagin has pledged to move the homeless from encampments around the city to more permanent shelters. Last year, the city and humanitarian groups found shelter for nearly all of the 250 people living in an encampment across from City Hall.

Nagin has suggested reinstating a city ordinance that would make it illegal to sleep in public places. Homeless advocates say the law would just crowd the jails.

“It just shows a real disconnect” between the city and the problem, said James Perry, head of the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center. “The answer is not going to be jails.”

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