What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Democrats tour New Orleans

Residents tell of housing woes


Posted on Wed, Aug. 15, 2007

Greeted by tearful victims of Hurricane Katrina still struggling to rebuild almost two years after the storm, a delegation of congressional Democrats on Tuesday outlined a list of priorities for Gulf Coast recovery.

It was the second and final day of a tour led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

After visiting Mississippi on Monday, the group spent Tuesday in the New Orleans area, visiting a storm-battered school on opening day, examining the levee system and hearing from residents in suburban St. Bernard Parish and in the city's Lower 9th Ward, two areas all but wiped out when Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005.

"This was not my fault. I'm 60 years old. I can't go through much more stress," a teary-eyed Valeria Schexnayder told reporters after telling Pelosi about her struggles to replace a Lower 9th Ward house washed away by the storm.

Later, in St. Bernard Parish, Karen Vinsanau broke down in tears as she told the delegation of 10 House members that she has struggled to rebuild a gutted house since her husband's death after the storm.

"I've just been praying since the storm someone would come to the parish," she said.

Vinsanau and Schexnayder both have had to deal with the federally funded, state-run Road Home program, designed to provide rebuilding or relocation aid to storm victims. It has been lambasted for being agonizingly slow, and it has a projected deficit as high as $5 billion that state officials hope Congress will help replenish.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the touring House members said they would work with the state to help fund Road Home. Other priorities listed include improving mental health services that have diminished since the storm, more small business disaster relief and an overhaul of the Stafford Act, the federal law that governs disaster recovery and has been blamed for roadblocks to recovery.

"You're not done grieving and neither are we. You're not done cleaning up and neither are we. You're not done building and neither are we," Clyburn said. About a dozen members of the House arrived in New Orleans on Sunday and embarked on the tour Monday. Aids said Republican members were invited as well but chose not to attend.

During a morning trip to a New Orleans school, Pelosi spoke briefly with a group of fifth-graders about the Constitution as she thumbed through a social studies book. "We're in your book. We're in Washington. Come see us," she told the students at Mary McLeod Bethune Accelerated School.

Higher post-hurricane construction costs, federal aid bureaucracy and continued uncertainty about how many students will eventually return to the city are among the problems outlined by New Orleans schools superintendent Darryl Kilbert as House members toured the school.

The pre-K through sixth-grade school was considered neglected even before the storm flooded it with more than four feet of water. Now, with enrollment expected to reach 350, the school still lacks playground equipment.

Original Sun Herald article posted on August 15, 2007.

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