Year Late, Dollar Short

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(Massachussetts Senator John F. Kerry)

For those who have lived the devastation of Hurricane Katrina every day for the last year, this is more than a date on a calendar - more than a "one year anniversary."

It's a hole they're still trying to dig themselves out of - and sadly, they're doing it with too little help from the Federal government. This anniversary is more than a time to remember the victims, the lives lost, the communities destroyed. We've had a year to review what went wrong - and there was a lot. But now is not the time for more study or more empty promises. Now is the time for action.

A year after losing almost everything during the hurricane, Katrina victims are twice victimized by government inaction. One year later, housing needs of evacuees have not been met. One year later, the infrastructure of New Orleans is still in disarray and trash litters the streets. One year later, the fight against poverty seems to have been forgotten in Washington, where at one time politicians were proclaiming a new commitment to end the "separate and unequal" conditions behind the "curtain" which Katrina pulled back. One year later, the clean up is far - too far - from complete. And one year later, small business owners and homeowners still don't have the aid they've been promised for rebuilding their stores, their houses, their economy.

The people of the Gulf Coast are proud and resilient - but still they suffer. We knew one year ago that government's response to Katrina failed them. We know today that one year later, too little has changed. Just a few months ago I visited New Orleans for the third time since Hurricane Katrina. What I saw and heard left me stunned by how little is happening compared to how much more must be done. It's impossible to convey the sheer destruction in New Orleans until you walk the streets, see the flood damage and talk with business owners who are still struggling. A year later, we still have miles to go rebuilding this region.

Enormous work remains to get New Orleans back in business and creating jobs. Small businesses at the heart of the Gulf Coast's economy are crucial to the rebuilding effort, so they must remain our focus as we continue to try to jumpstart the regional economy. The Bush administration boasts about the $10 billion in disaster loans they have approved. But today only $2 billion of that money has actually made it into the hands of Gulf Coast residents to rebuild - a mere 23 percent. Half of those who applied for disaster loans were denied. Where are they to turn?

In September the Senate passed the bipartisan legislation Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu, David Vitter and I offered to get small businesses immediately back on their feet with bridge loans and other assistance for small businesses. Yet at every turn, the Bush administration has blocked this effort and other bipartisan solutions from becoming law.

My colleagues and I in Washington have been fighting since day one for assistance to spur the Gulf Coast's economy and get help to those in need. We've drafted plans to get loan money into the hands of businesses and residents quickly, to expand access to federal contracts for local and small businesses, to increase trade opportunities and to hold the administration accountable. It's a start, but it's still not law yet.

Businesses in the Gulf Coast are hanging on by a thread. They can't endure much more red tape and needless delay. They need action now -not after they close their doors and declare bankruptcy. Talk about Washington's slow response isn't enough. We need deadlines and real solutions. We've got the money and the brains in this country to get the Gulf Coast back on its feet, and it's inexcusable that the job's not done. New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and our country need to know that when we said "never again," we meant it. One year has passed and we have much more to do to ensure those words don't continue to ring hollow.

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