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

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shake, Rattle, and Roll in the Miss. Insurance Commissioner Race

The 5.6-quake that closed this supermarket in San Jose on Tuesday may have raised the danger of a strong temblor on the Hayward Fault, scientists say. Tuesday's quake was the strongest in the Bay Area since the 1989 Loma Prieta event.

Stirring up powerful emotions, San Jose's earthquake has shaken up more than the ground, more than the residents in the 10th largest city in the nation, more than the friends and relatives of the many million who live in the area. Earlier this year while visiting at a friend's home in San Francisco, I experienced a baby earthquake.

I was sitting on the couch watching TV when it hit. I had thought her cat had suddenly ran across the back of the couch. When I realized that Cole was no where in that part of the house, I got frightened. "Oh, God, I don't want to deal with an earthquake," I remembered thinking.

You can't see them coming. There is no way to really be prepared all the time. Sure, I can get water and canned food--and I did. I can earthquake proof my home. But, what if I'm out shopping, say, at the Eastridge Mall in San Jose when an earthquake hits such as the one that hit last night? Canned food and water at my apartment miles and miles away won't be terribly convenient. Thankfully I have not ever experienced an earthquake the size of the 1989 Loma Prieta one.

Last week, many Californians were battling against fires. the rest of us were battling our ongoing disgust at learning that FEMA has continued the fake news cycle that has remained tradition in the Bush White House. Remember? Two years go, the mainstream news got wind of this.

Fake News Gets White House OK
Washington Post

Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged TV News
New York Times
Until earlier this year, however, I lived in San Jose, Calif., and I could have been there for this earthquake. All that comes to mind now is the safety of all of my friends out there, the accuracy of the news reports. All that comes to mind is whether we, as a nation, are equipped to handle multiple natural disasters--either simultaneously or one after the other.

Of course, the ongoing battle with insurance companies scamming there way out of paying legitimate claims--and their loyal accomplices in the industry's post-disaster endeavor. Who are these accomplices? For starters, any state insurance commissioner who is in the back pocket of Big Insurance.

Here in Mississippi, we have an election in just six days that is a battle between an enthusiastic apologist for Big Insurance and an ardently enthusiastic advocate for policyholders.

Mike Chaney has taken tens of thousands of Big Insurance dollars. Proudly proclaiming he'll return the money "when pigs fly." In this regard, Mike Chaney is the same as current insurance commissioner George Dale--a 32 year incumbent--who lost the Democratic nomination to Gary Anderson in large part because Dale is in Big Insurance's back pocket.

I loved it when Anderson referred to Chaney as a lap dog for Big Insurance.

Just as I'm certain that last night's earthquake rattled and rolled my former home in California, I am hoping that in Mississippi's election next Tuesday, we'll be rattling and rolling right here in my home state. I'm hoping that we'll go to the polls and vote for the only insurance commissioner candidate who has pledged and consistently demonstrated that when disaster hits, we can count on Gary Anderson to be on our side, to be looking out for our pocketbooks, to be casting a watchful eye upon the way in which insurance corporations are treating policyholders--who are also the voters in this state.

I'm hoping that when we wake up next Wednesday, we will wake up to a brand new era of our own making, having shaken, rattled and rolled the status quo shaking up the Big Insurance powers that be with the power of the votes cast for Gary Anderson.

That will spell relief for policyholders whether here along the Gulf Coast or our friends and relatives in the Delta or in the central and northern part of the state.

That will spell disaster for Big Insurance, and that is a disaster all of us can live with easily.

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Unimitigated Gall of Bush's Corps of Engineers

by Ana Maria

The unmitigated gall of Bush’s Corps of Engineers Susan Rees burns my grits. First, she walks into this tiny town and announces a never-before-heard of plan from Bush’s government to buy up 2/3 thirds of our homes. Then, she has the audacity to blame our outrage on the press.

“. . . at Monday's meeting, Rees blamed the press for at least part of the ensuing public reaction.

She also described Hancock County residents and public officials as "gullible."

"We never envisioned that people were so gullible that they'd believe the federal government would come in and buy up 17,000 properties," she told the local officials.”
My outrage was at what she herself told hundreds of us at a public meeting held at the local high school. Gullible? The only gullible ones at that meeting were Bill Walker, executive director of Gov. Barbour’s Department of Marine Resources, and Susan Rees representing Bush’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Sun Herald aptly described the pair.
Walker and Rees were the same officials who threw shock waves across Hancock County in September when they held a hastily assembled public meeting at Bay-Waveland Middle School.
The pair apparently forgot that before giving any kind of a speech it is important to know who comprises the audience. One of the things that I really love about having come home to Bay St. Louis, Miss.,--one of the tiny beach towns that comprise Katrina’s ground zero—is that I’m surrounded by people who have well-refined BS detectors and who speak their mind instantly and do so in such a way that leaves no question as to their meaning. What a breath of fresh air!

God knows that whether I was living and working in the capitol of Silicon Valley, Calif., or Nashville, Tenn.—the capitol of country music, or around our nation’s capitol—Washington, DC, it always seemed to me that I needed a dictionary or a thesaurus to understand people who were born and raised right here in the USA. They didn’t seem to routinely be able to just speak what is on their minds. Too much ambiguity for my tastes.

I come from direct-speaking folk, and because many of us down here have accents similar to those in New York AND because we’re direct in our verbiage—a directness that is often associated with New York, some mistake me as being from New York. Fine by me!

Somewhere along the way, I learned that the migration patterns for the Italians and Irish were similar in New York, Boston, and New Orleans, and thus our speech patterns find kinship. With all due respect to my New Yorker friends, I have often tell folks that I’m like a New Yorker . . . with charm. You know, tell you that folks that they are idiots for their foolish comments then turn around and offer ‘em something to eat to ease their pain of facing a new piece of information about themselves. Directness with a side dish of charm. Kinda has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Well, Ms. Rees apparently is using the White House talking point to blame the press for delivering accurately the pathetically ill-designed plan to buy up the private properties in this community. I was there along with the rest of my community when she presented Bush’s wall-and-haul proposal. Wall off this beach town with 40 foot seawalls along the beach. Haul off the residents who’ve been here for decades. My own family moved here from New Orleans in 1953. That’s 54 years.

As I’ve written before I find it no mere coincidence that Bush’s “wall-and-haul” proposal was reserved for Congressman Gene Taylor’s (D-MS) hometown. He’s not offering to buyout the 9th Ward in New Orleans or Lakeview at the other end of the economic spectrum of that beloved treasure of a city. No, Bush’s Administration is targeting the itty bitty hometown of the man who is pushing through Congress a bill that will radically alter one aspect of the financial services industry—the property insurance end.
Personally, I think the discussion of the buyouts is politically motivated, political revenge because Gulf Coast Congressman Taylor (D-MS)—a man whom the Bush Administration could count on to vote with the White House on its Iraq and social conservative policies—had demonstrated clearly that his moral values included using the government levers of power to help the American people of every political, economic, and religious stripe and size.

You see, once Taylor’s ground breaking multiple peril insurance legislation is signed into law, the Big Insurance Scam days are O-V-E-R. Immediately, REAL competition for REAL insurance enters the market.
I don’t believe that the buyout plan was ever intended to do more than to mess with Congressman Gene Taylor through riling up his constituents who would then flood his office with frantic phone calls and emails taking up precious time and energy that Taylor and his staff has been using successfully to push through the U.S. House of Representatives the Multiple Peril Insurance legislation. That legislation is beginning to get traction in the Senate. Bush’s folks need a way to slow it down and kill it. I think this wall-and-haul proposal is part of the White House arsenal.

Ms. Rees can take her White House drafted talking points blaming the press for our outrage then calling us gullible for being rightfully angry that the Bush Administration can drag its oil drenched, blood-soaked feet when it comes to helping us get back ON our feet and just stick it where the Mississippi Gulf Coast sun doesn’t shine.

All the while she is over here doing the Bush Administration’s dirty work, Bush’s buddy Rush Limbaugh is pretending everything is honky dory.
You know, nobody ever talks about Gulfport Mississippi and all these places in Mississippi that were literally leveled during Hurricane Katrina, and they're back on their feet or they're in the process of getting back on their feet. You never, ever hear about the misery and the destruction that they went through, because they're not whining and complaining about it. They're out there fixing it, just like they're doing in California.
Yeah, well, if we were doing just fine, Bush and Barbour wouldn’t be proposing a wall-and-haul policy.

Alas, Bush and Barbour are in bed with the insurers while Rush and Rees parrot the White House talking points.

If both Bush and Barbour had pushed the insurance industry to pay up immediately and in full on the wind policies of our homeowner insurance policies, we would be fixing up the place. Rush Limbaugh’s comments would, then, make history reflecting reality with which everyone down here could agree. Susan Rees would be memorizing her White House talking points to deliver to another part of the nation where I would hope she would continue to experience the wrath of Americans she erroneously dubs gullible.

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Alternate to buyout program proposed

Posted on Tue, Oct. 30, 2007

BAY ST. LOUIS -- Local elected officials hammered out a possible compromise with state and federal representatives Monday, aimed at derailing plans for an ambitious private property buyout that has thrown shadows over the Hancock County economy since last month.

During a two-hour evening meeting that excluded the public, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Marine Resources said they may be willing to drop the buyout plan in favor of strengthening an existing program that allows the federal government to buy repetitively flooded lands from private owners.

That would likely narrow the scope of any buyout and ease fears by local officials that a grand-scale buyout would jeopardize redevelopment, devour Bay St. Louis and stop any progress that has been made since Hurricane Katrina.

"It's a lot easier to support than a potential buyout of two-thirds of Bay St. Louis," Mayor Eddie Favre said following the meeting.

Favre, members of the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors attended the meeting, along with Waveland Mayor Tommy Longo and Board of Aldermen representatives. Bill Walker, executive director of the DMR, and Susan Rees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were present.

Walker and Rees were the same officials who threw shock waves across Hancock County in September when they held a hastily assembled public meeting at Bay-Waveland Middle School. That night, they enraged some local residents by announcing a wide range of flood mitigation possibilities the corps had in mind for the county.

Those included a massive land buyout that would turn hurricane-vulnerable private properties into green space.

Since then, local elected officials have said construction has slowed, developers and investors are backing off the county, and homeowners who have already rebuilt are fearful of what might come next. But at Monday's meeting, Rees blamed the press for at least part of the ensuing public reaction.

She also described Hancock County residents and public officials as "gullible."

"We never envisioned that people were so gullible that they'd believe the federal government would come in and buy up 17,000 properties," she told the local officials.

"I don't think people here are gullible," Tax Assessor-Collector Jimmie Ladner Jr. responded. "People are scared."

Corps maps of the plan showed buyout areas that included all of Shoreline Park and other newly annexed neighborhoods stretching back to Cedar Point. That proposal brought loud protests and an opposing resolution from the Bay St. Louis City Council.

In an effort to find a solution, Monday's meeting was arranged by Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. During the discussion, official after official expressed how deeply the state and federal plan has wounded the county.

"Real estate has been slow," said Bay St. Louis Councilman Bobby Compretta, also a Realtor. "But when this buyout hit the newspaper, it hit rock bottom."

Under the compromise idea, Walker and Rees indicated they would consider dropping the overall buyout for Hancock County and meet with a three-member committee of elected officials to craft a new plan. It would involve possibly broadening an existing FEMA program that allows owners of property that floods repetitively to sell out to the federal government.

The current program calls for FEMA to pay 75 percent on such buyouts. Local governments are responsible for a 25 percent match, but hurricane-strapped governments now can't afford that. If the corps were to assume the buyout power instead of FEMA, the federal government might then shoulder 100 percent, officials said.

Meetings between the state, the corps and the local committee will begin as soon as possible. Rocky Pullman, president of the Board of Supervisors, will represent the county. City Council President Jim Thriffiley will represent Bay St. Louis, and Alderwoman Lili Stahler will represent Waveland.

Meeting tonight
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposed buyout program will be the focus of Jackson County Supervisor John McKay's town hall meeting at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Ocean Springs Middle School.

The corps is seeking public input about a proposed flood prevention plan which would buy hundreds of low-lying residential homes in the county's flood plain with federal funding.

"This is a great opportunity for Jackson County's residents to learn about the corps' buyout program in person," McKay said. "This meeting is open to all county residents and officials. We are going to have the people who can answer the important questions."

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.

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Katrina aid bill advances

Old rules had hampered recovery

WASHINGTON -- The House passed a bill Monday which will aid areas hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita by retroactively changing federal rules that have hampered recovery.

"Sometimes it seems that public schools and city and county offices will be the last buildings rebuilt on the Mississippi Coast," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, in a statement.

"This bill will help resolve any remaining problems so that local officials can start construction. The bill also provides flexibility for alternate projects and for mitigation grants so that the new facilities can be built better and stronger than the buildings that were destroyed."

The bill, which passed by voice vote, would change the Stafford Act in a number of ways, notably by increasing the federal share of constructing relocated buildings or "alternate projects," as they are called, from 75 percent to 90 percent.

"The Stafford Act was not written for disasters the magnitude of Katrina and Rita," said Rep. Charles Melancon, D-La.

The bill also would allow work already done by local communities to strengthen structures and infrastructure to count toward the 25 percent state match for federal hazard mitigation grants, a change that could mean as much as $145 million to Mississippi. It would permit work done by the state and localities to count for the state's match requirement under the Stafford Act to access Mississippi's $434 million in FEMA's hazard mitigation funding.

The bill will now be considered by the Senate, where Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is poised to champion it. "We're supportive of the bill," said Landrieu press secretary Stephanie Allen. "We're still reviewing it but we expect to usher it through the Senate Homeland Security Committee." Landrieu chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's Disaster Recovery subcommittee.

Taylor was not present for the House vote, which was done under suspension of the rules, a device usually reserved for noncontroversial bills.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Perverted Priorities: Fires, Fema, Fake News

by Ana Maria

“Tell me where you spend your money,
and I’ll tell you where your priorities are.”
Throughout my growing up years here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my mother would often mention one or another variation of that saying. Sometimes she would end it with “and I’ll tell you where your heart is.” For Bush’s FEMA, their priorities remain in making Bush look good with self-created PR pretending to be reporters posing those big softie questions. FEMA is not in actually doing the excellent job that the agency should be doing, just posing and pretending.

For example, Bush’s Chertoff pretended to scold his own agency with his spokeswoman stating "Stunts such as this will not be tolerated or repeated."

Ever since Bush and Cheney cheated their way into the White House and deceived the American people—including our congressional officials into a war of choice, the Bushies modus operandi has been betrayal, deceit, and abandonment. So the FEMA stunt is part and parcel of the Administration’s ongoing way of operating our government.

While the people at FEMA should have lost their job for deliberately deceiving the American people with a fake news conference, no one has. To be sure, Bush’s man Chertoff faked his admonition that such a “stunt” would not be “tolerated.” What a joke. And I’m not laughing.

The other joke at which I’m not laughing is comparing FEMA’s response to the California wildfires to its response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation throughout the Mississippi-Alabama Gulf Coast region and the breaching of the US Corps of Engineers levees in New Orleans. The comparison needs a bit of evening up before we jump to happy conclusions.

Now, let’s forget about the fact that the fires raging were well publicized in California while no one saw coming the breaching of the New Orleans levees.

Oh, wait. The night before New Orleans flooded, the White House had seen photos of the levees being breached and deliberately failed to inform the Louisiana state authorities of this important factor.
“FEMA knew at eleven o’clock on Monday that the levees had breached, at 2 o’clock they flew over the 17th St. Canal and took video of the breaches, by midnight on Monday the White House knew, but none of us knew.”

Ivor Van Heerden, Deputy Director of Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Center

Still, the residents themselves—as well as the local officials—didn’t see the levees breaching, and the prep time for the emergency shelters were zilch.

Let’s forget about the fact that folks in California drove and parked to their shelters while New Orleans folks walked to the Superdome with their children, babies, and grandparents in tow.

Let’s forget about the fact that there were no massages, yoga classes, or ventriloquists inside the New Orleans Superdome.
Free newspapers were available, National Guard troops kept watch, ventriloquists and balloon artists entertained kids, and even massage therapists were trying to help the 12,000 to 15,000 evacuees relax as they fretted about the fate of their homes.
The relative comfort of the California evacuees is well recorded, and here is one such video capturing it.

This is where the generosity of the comparison ends. Let's incorporate some of the conditions from the Superdome days.

The floodwaters surrounded the Superdome making escape impossible. So, let’s put provide the same conditions for my fellow Americans in Southern California who have had the horrendous tragedy of being evacuated from their homes not knowing what condition they may find upon return and let’s put the fires immediately outside of the Qualcom Stadium. Escape from the stadium, just as with the Superdome, is impossible.

After all, it isn’t as if we have flood and hurricane fighters flying overhead pouring chemicals on the floodwaters and the hurricane force winds that will stop the devastation.

Next, the food and water inside Qualcom Stadium runs out just as it had in New Orleans both inside and out of the Superdome Stadium.

Let’s add another factor. No communication between and among public officials. No telephone lines, no Internet access. Remember, the Bush Administration has yet to create national emergency communication system. Too busy trying to war with the countries strategic for the untapped oil and gas reserves in the Baltics for such essential homeland security items here at home, imho.

Next, we have to have the fires surround the stadium just as the flood waters surrounded the Superdome.

With no food or water in the California stadium, hunger pains retch the stomachs of the evacuees and those of their kids. The evacuees are surrounded by thousands of others who are also hungry and thirsty. They know—not just wonder, but know—that everything that they owned, their entire communities, their livelihoods, their homes were going up in smoke.

Now, tell me, would the people inside Qualcom Stadium be reading newspapers, getting massages, doing yoga, and talking with reporters? Or would they be going crazy with fear and desperation like we witnessed inside the Superdome?

Ahhh, the view becomes more clear. You see, without the same critical circumstances of Katrina disaster, comparing the two reactions is erroneous. Though it does serve the White House in another rendition of government by pretension.

Now, what comes to my mind is the movie Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd. For the purpose of this little exercise, Akroyd’s character represents Southern Californians. The movie analogy is so appropriate.

Louis Winthorpe, III, Akryod’s character, is stripped of his social standing and financial success. In the movie, Winthorpe ends up living in horrendous conditions, acting in ways that he would never have thought possible for him from his previous socio-economic position.

Were the victims in the Qualcom stadium subjected to the same circumstances—and I wouldn’t wish those circumstances on anyone . . . other than, perhaps, the Bush Administration and their accomplices in FEMA and counterparts in Congress and the Senate—then to what extent would we witness them reacting just as the Americans in the New Orleans Superdome had?

What I expect to be similar is for the insurance industry to figure out a way to scam California home and business owners out of paying off in full on their policies. What I expect to be similar is for home and business owners to sue the hell out of their carriers to get—perhaps years down the road—the check that should be provided within days of the devastation.

In August, Bloomberg News already exposed the ravages of insurers in Southern California in its August expose: Home Insurers' Secret Tactics Cheat Fire Victims, Hike Profits.

On average, those of us inside of Katrina’s wake may not have the financial resources or the educational level as the average person in Southern California possesses. What we do have, however, is a sophisticated view of the insurance industry and its deceptive tactics to keep our premiums in its coffers at our expense, which is an industry-wide priority.

We understand that Big Insurance priorities are not those of the policyholders. We understand that Big Insurance is its own racket which the federal government does not regulate in the least.

From our painful experiences, we understand that Big Insurance will screw over the powerful like a U.S. Congressman (as in Gene Taylor) or Senator (as in Trent Lott) as quickly as it will screw over its average policyholders be they high or low income, white or black or Asian, Republican or Democrat. We're pretty sophisticated and gladly share our experience so that others will benefit from our own tragedies.

Since there continues to be no federal regulation of the insurance industry, we could eventually hear of companies again ripping off California home and business owners just as they have in the past and just as they did to Katrina survivors. [Read the Bloomberg article.]

You see, the only priority of the insurance companies is to increase their profits, pad the bonuses of its board of directors, and inflate the income of its CEOs. that they do so with great deceit to its policyholders, its customers, is of no consequence. They sell us on financial security their products allegedly provide. Hhowever, when we need our insurance policies to pay off, the companies often only concern themselves with their own financial security. In that regard, Big Insurance has its own priorities, however pathetic and perverse they may be.

Rest assured, though, the good people inside this Katrina-ravaged region will be empathetic to the plight of those families and business owners in Southern California whose lives the insurance companies may very well end up ruining. Our hearts are filled with empathy. Unlike Big Insurance, we have our priorities straight.

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Friday, October 26, 2007

Anderson Accuses Chaney of Pocketing Big Insurance Contributions

Jackson 10/25/07

by Jon Kalahar

Both candidates for insurance commissioner agree this is the most important race coming up in the November general election. Gary Anderson and Mike Chaney each believe they're the one to lower insurance rates and generate more economic growth in the state.

But there's plenty they disagree on. The issue of campaign contributions is again at the forefront. Should an official who will regulate insurance in Mississippi be allowed to accept contributions from insurance agents and companies?

Gary Anderson says no. Mike Chaney says there are more important issues facing the state.

Gary Anderson blasted Mike Chaney for his alleged ties to big insurance.

"A lap dog for big insurance isn't protecting your pocket books. This will lead to higher insurance rates for all of us," said Anderson.

But Chaney isn't trying to hide the fact he has accepted money from insurance agents and companies.

"I will take money from independent agents all day and I'll take it from domestic companies. I do not take money from large, big insurance companies," said Chaney.

Anderson believes by accepting those contributions Chaney is more susceptible to favoring those contributors rather than running the department of insurance independent of outside influences.

"I call on Chaney to return every dime of the insurance money that he's taken, over 70 thousand dollars. I call on him to return that money and come clean," said Anderson.

Chaney says he will do no such thing.

"Will you return the money you get from insurance agents, and I said, ' When pigs fly.' ," said Chaney.

Are voters concerned who contributes to either campaign? Ole Miss professor, Larry Cox says there are definitely bigger issues that need to be addressed.

"I certainly think the nitty gritty of straightening out the markets of the coast as best they can and again attracting new competition will provide us with the most competitive rates are by far and away the most important issues," said Cox.

Finding ways to bring in more insurance companies into the state seems to be the key to lowering rates for Mississippians. Gary Anderson favors cracking down on waste and insurance fraud. While Mike Chaney says to increase economic progress, the state needs available, affordable and accountable insurance.
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Anderson: Chaney Wrong on Right to Vote

Says Insurance Commissioner Should Be Appointed and Not Elected

Anderson Reaffirms His Pledge to Remain Independent of Insurance Interests as Mississippi's Insurance Regulator

Jackson, Mississippi - Insurance Commissioner Candidate Gary Anderson held a press conference at 10:00am at the State Capitol Building. Anderson blasted Mike Chaney for his position on whether the Insurance Commissioner's post should be appointed rather than elected.

On July 26 th at the Neshoba County Fair, Chaney said, "As Commissioner, I will ask the legislature to make the position of Insurance Commissioner appointed and not elected."

On September 17 th , the Commercial Dispatch reported, "a way Chaney sees to make it [insurance] more affordable is to make the Mississippi Insurance Commissioner a position appointed by the Governor rather than elected by voters."

"Mike Chaney wants to take away the right of voters to elect or remove the Insurance Commissioner. He wants to turn over control of the office to big insurance," said Anderson at the press conference. "Here is another example of how Mike Chaney wants to work on the side of big insurance. The people of Mississippi need checks and balances in place; they deserve an Insurance Commissioner working on their side who they can elect or remove. Mike Chaney wants to answer to big insurance instead of to the people."

Anderson also called on his opponent Mike Chaney to come clean with the voters of Mississippi about pocketing over $70,000 in insurance money since he entered the race against Anderson. Chaney's most recent financial disclosure report shows thousands collected from insurance company executives, insurance PACS, insurance agents and insurance companies.

"I have not taken a single dime from insurance companies or any insurance special interests," said Anderson. "Mr. Chaney cannot protect the pocketbooks of the insurance ratepayers if he is taking money from insurance interests. Taking money from an industry you would be responsible to regulate is a direct conflict of interest. I call on Chaney to return every dime and come clean with the people of Mississippi," said Anderson.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Schumer seeks expanded flood insurance program

By Keith Herbert - Newsday, October 23, 2007

More New Yorkers are turning to unregulated insurers for property coverage, further proof that federal regulation is needed to stabilize the homeowners' insurance market on Long Island, Sen. Charles Schumer said Monday.

During a news conference at the home of a Huntington homeowner, Schumer (D-N.Y.) cited the trend to support his call for legislation that would expand a federal flood insurance program to include hurricane wind damage.

Private insurers fearful of a catastrophic storm hitting Long Island have been unwilling to cover wind damage, so the federal government should add "multi-peril coverage" to its flood insurance program, Schumer said.

"I think this would solve the problem once and for all," he said of legislation being considered by a Senate banking committee he serves on.

Since early last year, a half dozen insurers, including Allstate, Liberty Mutual and State Farm, have not renewed thousands of area homeowner policies. They cite concerns a catastrophic storm is overdue for Long Island, forcing large payouts for losses they would be unable to cover.

The nonrenewals have left many homeowners facing hard-to-find coverage, increased premiums and high wind-storm deductibles.

"We all complain about tax increases," Schumer said. "This is the same thing -- more money going out to keep your house."

There are 1.7 million homeowner policies in coastal New York areas, according to the state Department of Insurance.

Schumer said that in New York State the number of people seeking so-called excess line property insurance has jumped from 3,100 in 2002 to more than 7,000 as of last month.

Without providing detailed figures, Schumer said more and more Long Islanders have been forced to buy homeowners insurance from the excess-line market, whose companies aren't licensed by the state.

Such policies are more typical for homeowners with unusually expensive homes or whose property is close to a potential hazard, such as water. They often can't secure insurance from licensed underwriters. The premiums are also much higher than regular homeowner policies and involve more risk because state regulators don't monitor rates. However, the state does regulate the brokers who provide excess-line coverage.

Schumer spoke from the driveway of Denise Laimo, 55, who turned to an excess-line company after her previous insurer, Allstate, didn't renew her homeowners policy.

In January 2006, Laimo said her furnace malfunctioned and flooded her basement, prompting her to file a claim with Allstate. Six months later, she said she received a letter that her policy was not being renewed because her home was prone to flooding.

Laimo said she was unable to find insurance after shopping other providers, and turned to Utica Insurance. Her policy premiums increased from $960 a year to $2,400, but her new policy covers more.

"I have better coverage, but it more than doubled," Laimo said of the premium.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Vitter puts hold on insurance bill

By Bruce Alpert - Times Picayune, October 23, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has put a hold on a flood insurance overhaul bill because he says it doesn't raise coverage limits or expand the program to provide wind-damage coverage to address a shortage of affordable policies in Gulf Coast communities devastated by hurricanes in 2005.

Because the Senate calendar often is set by unanimous consent, letting a single senator block a bill's consideration, Vitter's hold puts passage in limbo. Members put a hold on a bill in an effort to get the sponsors to negotiate changes.

Vitter said Monday that he's looking for several changes in the bill approved last week by the Senate Banking Committee.
He wants to increase the current maximum levels of flood insurance to for residential properties from $250,000 to $335,000 and for commercial properties from $500,000 to $750,000.

The program, Vitter said, also should be expanded to allow policyholders new lines of optional coverage for business interruption and to provide full replacement of contents.
Congress should take steps to alleviate a shortage of wind coverage along the Gulf Coast and other coastal areas, he said.
"Lack of available or affordable general liability coverage, including wind coverage, is now one of the single biggest obstacles to recovery," Vitter said in a letter to Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the panel's top Republican. Either the flood insurance program should be expanded to provide wind coverage, or Congress must take other steps to address the crisis, Vitter said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., also has concerns about the Senate bill, spokesman Adam Sharp said. Landrieu is concerned that the Senate bill allows for bigger increases in premiums than the House-passed bill, and, like Vitter, would like to see a wind coverage option added to the program, Sharp said.

Landrieu plans to consult soon with Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, to develop a strategy to win changes in the Senate Banking Committee bill, Sharp said. But for now she is not joining Vitter in placing a hold on the measure.
. . . . . . .
Bruce Alpert can be reached at or (202) 383-7861.

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Vitter stalls bill on flood insurance

By Sean Reilly - Press Register, October 23, 2007

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La, is blocking action by the full Senate on a flood insurance overhaul, saying that it should include higher coverage limits and optional protection for windstorm damage.

The overhaul, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, won unanimous approval from the Senate banking committee Wednesday.

But in a Monday letter to his two colleagues, Vitter said the legislation should have increased coverage levels, as a House-passed measure would do. The House bill also would allow flood insurance policyholders to add wind coverage; Vitter urged the Senate to consider a similar provision or take other action "to address the broader insurance crisis."

In a news release accompanying the letter, Vitter said he was placing a "hold" on the bill to prevent it from going forward until his concerns were addressed.

Saying he has not seen the letter, a spokesman for Dodd, who chairs the banking committee, had no immediate comment late Monday.

Together with Louisiana's other senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, Vitter blocked a Senate vote last year on a similar measure to strengthen the flood program, which is now crippled by billions of dollars in debt to the federal treasury. The Senate bill would write off that debt, but also phase out cut-rate premiums for vacation homes and business properties. Last week, a Landrieu spokesman also sounded concerns about the bill's lack of wind coverage and the potential cost to Louisiana policyholders.

The federally backed flood insurance program has more than 54,000 policyholders in Alabama, the bulk of them in Mobile and Baldwin counties.

© 2007 Press-Register

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Vitter to put hold on bill for insurance

By Kate Magandy - Sun Herald, October 23, 2007

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter said Monday he's putting a hold on the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007.
According to the Senate Web site, a hold is "an informal practice by which a senator informs the floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The majority leader need not follow the senator's wishes but is on notice that the opposing senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure."

Vitter, in a press release, said the current bill is similar to last year's and doesn't include provisions that were approved by the House. Vitter particularly addressed the need for greater flood coverage through higher limits and new optional lines of coverage as well as the need for wind-related measures to stabilize general liability rates.

The senator asked the bill's authors, Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), to meet with him to discuss his concerns.

"This bill looks to be a lot like last year's, and that's disappointing," Vitter said in his release. "Last year and again this year, the House companion bill at least addressed some of the missing pieces, but the bill reported out of Chairman Dodd's committee leaves out these needed reforms.

"I hope the drafters of this bill will open up the lines of communication and work with those states directly impacted by this legislation to ensure that we pass a flood insurance bill that best serves those affected areas," he said.

Vitter also said he plans to organize a meeting between himself, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and Mississippi senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran to discuss what is needed to improve the current version of the bill.

Lott spokesman Lee Youngblood said Monday that Lott also is concerned with the current version of the bill and is committed to getting results for the people of South Mississippi.

"He's going to try any way he can to get a result, whether it's in committee or on the floor," Youngblood said.

"The bottom line is, they didn't include (the wind provision) the other day. He will try to help in any way he can. He has a stake in seeing the wind provision added."

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mike Chaney as 'Mini Me' in Miss. Insurance Race

by Ana Maria

Two weeks from today, Mississippi can make history in a good and positive way. We have an opportunity to elect Gary Anderson as our state’s insurance commissioner. In the August Democratic primary, Anderson defeated George Dale, a 32-year incumbent bought and paid for by the insurance companies he had been elected to regulate to the benefit and on behalf of Mississippians.

On November 6th, Mississippians like myself will cast their ballots choosing between Anderson and Republican nominee Mike Chaney—the George Dale stand-in candidate. See, Anderson beat out George Dale through pledging not to take money from Big Insurance. Chaney is the George Dale stand-in candidate complete with taking money from Big Insurance just as his good friend Dale had done. Chaney’s recent financial disclosure forms reveal the man sticking his hand out to receive well over $40,000 of Big Insurance campaign investments.

Now the political campaign is going to heat up, and we can write the script Chaney and his team will use. First, Chaney’s team will pretend that taking money from Big Insurance, which has royally screwed over tens of thousands of families and businesses here in Mississippi’s part of the Katrina-ravaged region alone, is the same as money from our legal warriors who successfully protect us from Big Insurance screwing us.

Let’s see. The Chaney campaign believes that the legal protectors of our property are the same as the bullies who steal our homes and businesses. That’s some kind of perverted logic. The Chaney campaign must be desperate.

See, Democratic nominee Gary Anderson had long ago pledged not to take money from Big Insurance.

That made Anderson stand out from George Dale who had raked in over $200,000 in Big Insurance contributions. See pledge here.

Chaney did the “me, too” pledge.

"I will not take money from big insurance companies," Chaney said in a recent telephone interview. "I have not taken money from big insurance companies. I have taken money from insurance agents and from smaller insurance companies that are domiciled in the state.
Of course, Chaney revoked his pledge when he began to take in the over $40,000 in Big Insurance checks. Not the $200,000 that his buddy George Dale raked in during the primary, but a substantial amount more than say, uh, $0. Chaney is doing his best to imitate George Dale whom he likes. Said so himself.
I like George. I’m just worried that he might not get the nomination.
Apparently, Chaney ran to keep the George Dale tradition of having someone in the back pocket of Big Insurance. Chaney is George Dale lite. Kind of the 'Mini Me' in the Mississippi insurance commissioner campaign.

Photo from here.

Just as George Dale did unsuccessfully in the primary, Chaney is banking on painting lawyers in a bad light. Well, a funny thing happened when corporate insurance giants began stealing homes and businesses from families and communities in South Mississippi. Folks looked around to fight Big Insurance with the biggest legal ammo they could find. Big Insurance treated Republican Senator Trent Lott and Congressman Gene Taylor so badly that even they brought in the big guns in the form of Dickie Scruggs of the Scruggs Katrina Group. Without putting the big guns to Big Insurance, Lott and Taylor—along with plenty of other Mississippians—would still be whistling Dixie, as the saying goes around here.

Since Insurance Commissioner George Dale wasn’t protecting Mississippians from Big Insurance, folks rightfully turned to the courts to protect their rights. That’s why Dickie Scruggs and other attorneys have stepped in. They offered to help get the money Big Insurance owed Katrina families and businesses.

Sure, Dale and his supporters such as Big Insurance and Mini were plainly agitated during the August primary. Scruggs gave $250,000 to a political committee named Mississippians for Fair Elections, which ran a fantastically effective ad campaign informing voters that Big Insurance was denying claims all over the state while giving $200,000 in campaign contributions to George Dale.

Big Insurance has already given at least $40,000 to Mike “Mini Me” Chaney. Now Mike “Mini Me” Chaney has his Big Insurance talking points, and the Chaney campaign is probably pleased that those talking points are echoing in various parts of the state. I wouldn’t count those campaign chickens before they hatched, Mini Me.

With Big Insurance’s $40,000, Mini Me is surely considering putting up a racist-tinged ad campaign reminding Mississippi voters that he, Mike 'Mini Me' Chaney, is the WHITE candidate. We know it is coming. This is as predictable as much as banking on Chaney continuing to hold out his hand for Big Insurance campaign money.

I hope that we see another round of ads blowing Chaney’s cover as the Mini Me of the race.

Look for “Mini Me” Chaney to pull out the racist card, to hide behind the color of his own skin as a rationale for our vote. He will do this to hide the fact that he is taking money from Big Insurance who screwed us regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, educational background, or political clout.

The only colors that Big Insurance cares about are green and red. Green for the profits it makes and red for sticking us with the bills Big Insurance should pay. We have the opportunity to make our lives better than this.

Mississippi families depend on insurance as part of their financial security to protect their property—their homes and businesses. We depend on insurance for our financial security. As Mississippians, we depend on our insurance commissioner to protect us with fair regulation of the insurance industry. Mike “Mini Me” Chaney will do as George Dale did and protect Big Insurance. In two weeks, Mississippians have the opportunity to make history and elect Gary Anderson as our insurance commissioner the only candidate who has the financial background, integrity, grit, and backbone to protect us from Big Insurance taking advantage of us. We can depend on Gary Anderson to protect us.

In two weeks, we can show the kind of insurance commissioner we believe we deserve. Big Insurance is banking on Mike “Mini Me” Chaney. For me, I’m casting my vote Gary Anderson—the candidate on whom home and business owners, regular folks like you and I can bank on to protect us from Big Insurance.

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Anderson for insurance commissioner


For the first time since 1975, George Dale won't be on the ballot for state insurance commissioner.

Dale, the longest serving insurance commissioner in the nation, was defeated in the Democratic Party primary by Gary Anderson.

Anderson, 51, now faces Republican Mike Chaney in the Nov. 6 general election.

We believe Anderson is the right man for the job.

Anderson served as the state's chief financial officer before an unsuccessful campaign for Mississippi treasurer four years ago. We believe he can use his financial experience to bring needed change to the agency.

However, we are concerned that trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs, who has made millions suing the tobacco industry and is involved in litigation against insurance companies for their response to Hurricane Katrina victims, contributed at least $250,000 to Anderson's campaign.

Chaney, 63, has served in the Mississippi House and Senate, where he chaired the Senate Education Committee. Like Anderson, he is intelligent and brings some good ideas to the table.

But we believe Anderson will be more aggressive in dealing with the insurance companies that for too long have held much sway with the state agency that regulates it.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Canceling Barbour's Reverse Robin Hood Robbery

by Ana Maria

Look, I grew up right here at ground zero for Katrina. No, that isn’t New Orleans—though as a kid, I spent plenty of time there visiting my ton of relatives that live in that internationally beloved city which is but an hour’s drive west of the real ground zero. That city’s problems are definitely because of poorly constructed levees that crumbled under Hurricane Katrina., crumbled because engineers, bureaucrats and politicians failed to develop world class levees. When I talk of Katrina’s ground zero, I’m talking all about Mother Nature’s doings—hurricane force winds ripping apart houses that were 50, 100, 200 years old and tearing up the beautiful trees equal in age with which this region had been so blessed.

I grew up in Bay St. Louis, Miss. This is about a good 20-minute ride from a new ground zero for Katrina—the hotbed of dispute over housing money. After Katrina, Congress appropriated $5.5 billion for our recovery, including housing—as in for people, families, kids, the elderly, the disabled, the sick and the healthy.

Seems our Republican Governor Haley Barbour cannot figure out the difference between housing Mississippians whose homes Hurricane Katrina substantially damaged or destroyed and housing multi-national and multi-billion dollar corporations that use the Port of Gulfport. While the port is another aspect of our recovery, that is not the point. Rather, this is a straight out matter of fiscal responsibility, of Barbour’s failure to comply with the purpose of those monies. Period.

Just last night, I mentioned to a relative who comes down here regularly from his home in another state that to this day I can cross the bridge that connects my hometown of Bay St. Louis to the rest of the Gulf Coast. I can drive along Highway 90 from the other side of the bridge which puts me in Pass Christian and continue for at least 40 miles until I reach Biloxi. Not a single gas station has been rebuilt. Not a single one. Yes, I almost ran out of gas when I attended a fundraiser in Biloxi for the now Democratic nominee for Insurance Commissioner, Gary Anderson. I make certain that my gas tank is full before I leave the Bay. Upon hearing the revelation that no gas stations exist, my relative became aghast.

I told him that not that long ago there was an article in the local Sun Herald telling of a man pretending to be a cop. He’d turn on police lights on his fake car, pull them over, and well, the rest isn’t so pretty. The advice from one law enforcement officer was to turn on our emergency lights and keep driving until we get to a gas station. The follow up comment was that we wouldn’t have to drive more than five miles.

Oh yeah? Where? He must have reverted to pre-Katrina memories. That happens. We forget that we live in a world where basic things we all take for granted—like gas stations—just don’t exist for the time being.

Hardly any construction along the beach for that entire stretch. Now, folks, if there is no boom along those fabulous beach front properties, there is no construction boom for the rest of the communities here either and that includes for those with fewer resources for housing. The miles and miles of land along the beach are barren save for some trees that survived Katrina’s hurricane winds. The question is not whether the pre-Katrina residents will survive. Breathing alone is the definition of mere survival. The question is how they will survive, how will they get the opportunity to thrive.

This is America. We’re Americans. We can do better than all of this. As cynical as too many of us have gotten, we still harbor a desire to do better in our own lives, our communities' lives and the life of our country. We took Hurricane Katrina as an opportunity to channel all those pent up feelings that the best of America existed in the days before the stolen presidential election of 2000 and we poured them into compassionate volunteering of time and energy and money all across the U.S.

The thing that gets me is that there really should not be any federal government money for Governor Barbour to swipe for his corporate cronies. Every one of those housing dollars should have already been spent or encumbered for housing.

Barbour is smooth-talking, back slapping, glad handling former lobbyist who is used to sweet talking or strong arming his way into whatever he wants. I’m sure that he can find other ways to fund the port’s refurbishing. The Los Angeles Times reported

Reilly Morse, a senior attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice's Katrina Recovery Office, says officials are operating according to a "reverse Robin Hood logic." Port officials, he said, have enough insurance and FEMA funding to recover from Katrina damage, and can explore further funding sources. "They do not need to rob the poor," he said.
And that is it in a nutshell. Reverse Robin Hood.
Our funds do not allow us to provide assistance to all of those 169,000 homes," said Donna Sanford, director of disaster recovery for the development authority. "We have to make difficult decisions."
Most of us outside of Katrina Land fully anticipated that everything would have long ago been completed. To think that most of the recovery hasn't begun and to realize that here in Mississippi the money is stuck in the state's capitol where Governor Barbour, a Republican, is doing his best to develop his Reverse Robin Hood skills . . . well, this is crazy!

There has long been plenty of money appropriated to help rebuild those 169,000 homes. Our federal government sent money for disaster relief for housing. The foundations should have long ago been poured, the 2x4s erected, the roofs and walls put on. Paint stores should have a steady stream of trucks unloading boxes of paint cans. That housing money would cycle through this area again and again and again. A vibrant recovery would ensue.

Rather than the headache of yet another Republican Reverse Robin Hood stealing money from the poor to hand to his rich buddies, we’d be complaining of the joyous noise from construction hurting our ears and then laughing about the headaches from all the banging and hammering and clanging. For over two years now, we’ve been looking forward to those headaches.

Before we can begin to raise hell about the GAWD-awful construction noise at all hours of the day and night, we need to raise a little political hell to shake those dollars lose from the hands from these Reverse Robin Hoods. These are federal dollars. Let's channel our energy into pouring a bit of fuel on the fire in the belly that Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) have already demonstrated. Each
have asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development to deny Gov. Haley Barbour's request to divert $600 million in Hurricane Katrina housing money for homeowners and spend the money repairing, expanding and improving the Port of Gulfport.
These two strong Democrats with backbones of steal have no need for a dose of Spineocrat. Mark Fiore, San Francisco Chronicle's fantastic video cartoonist, created this fabulous piece on Democrats and backbone.

Contacting Frank and Waters will encourage them to keep the pressure on HUD to spend the money on housing families.

This is how we can help to cancel Barbour's plans for his public Reverse Robin Hood robbery.

© 2007 Ana Maria Rosato. All rights reserved.
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Housing funds for the port?

Many of Mississippi's poor still await financial help with Katrina damage. But Gulfport has other plans for HUD money.

By Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 22, 2007

GULFPORT, MISS. -- Most days, Luvenia Thomas sits in a wheelchair outside her dank bungalow on 21st Street. She says she cannot breathe inside.

More than two years after Hurricane Katrina tore up her roof and flooded her home, brown water stains darken her ceilings, and her floors are bare. She has pulled up most of her carpeting, but still she says she cannot rid her home of mold.

"I don't know what to do," said Thomas, 54, who is disabled and living on a fixed income. She has not been able to receive state assistance because the damage was caused by wind rather than flooding. "The roof needs fixing, the walls need fixing, the floors need fixing. The whole house needs fixing."

In low-income neighborhoods across coastal Mississippi, many homeowners are still patching their roofs with blue tarp, positioning plants to collect drips from living room ceilings, and taping paper over window cracks. Most say they have yet to receive financial assistance from Mississippi officials.

Advocates for the poor have long argued that Mississippi has skewed federal hurricane recovery funds toward the wealthy. But criticism has become particularly charged since the Mississippi Development Authority announced plans to divert $600 million in federal housing funds to restore and expand the port of Gulfport.

With nearly 15,000 Mississippi families still living in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, and many more struggling to repair their damaged homes, a growing number of ministers, aid workers and attorneys say the plan shortchanges the poor.

Reilly Morse, a senior attorney for the Mississippi Center for Justice's Katrina Recovery Office, says officials are operating according to a "reverse Robin Hood logic." Port officials, he said, have enough insurance and FEMA funding to recover from Katrina damage, and can explore further funding sources. "They do not need to rob the poor," he said.

Yet many local and state officials say that housing is no longer the region's most critical priority. They say redirecting funds to the port will reinvigorate the coastal economy.

"We can give someone a little money for new shingles or we can give them a job for the rest of their life," said Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr. "Most people in Gulfport want this because it means jobs, jobs, jobs. The city could become the corporate headquarters of the state of Mississippi."

The plan, which has yet to be submitted to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, would create 1,300 direct jobs in the next 10 years -- 528 more than the port had before the hurricane. The Mississippi Development Authority is requesting a waiver from the requirement that one full-time, permanent job is created for every $35,000 of HUD funds used. Critics estimate that only one job would be created for each $460,000 spent.

Investing $600 million in the port, valued at $127 million before the hurricane and estimated to have incurred $50 million in damage, represents a significant expansion. Already, the port has hazard insurance coverage of at least $108 million, and it expects an additional $54 million from FEMA.

"We don't want to recover just to the point where we were on Aug. 29, 2005," said Donald R. Allee, executive director of the Mississippi State Port Authority. "We plan to get bigger and we plan to get better."

Development authority officials say that enough housing money will remain to give grants to an estimated 30,000 homeowners to restore or rebuild property. This represents fewer than a fifth of the estimated 169,000 Mississippi homes damaged or destroyed.

"Our funds do not allow us to provide assistance to all of those 169,000 homes," said Donna Sanford, director of disaster recovery for the development authority. "We have to make difficult decisions."

Advocates for the poor have repeatedly questioned the manner in which the development authority has distributed the $5.4 billion it received from HUD through the Community Development Block Grant program.

Established to improve housing and economic opportunities for the poor, the program requires that at least 70% of funds benefit people with low or moderate incomes. After Katrina, Congress lowered that requirement to 50%. Mississippi has gotten this requirement waived for 80% of its programs.

Last year, attorneys with the Mississippi Center for Justice considered suing after state officials announced the first phase of their program to distribute federal aid. By offering grants of as much as $150,000 to homeowners who had insurance but lived outside the flood zone, they argued, officials denied help to many in the hardest-hit areas.

The second phase of the state's program provided as much as $100,000 for people who had flood damage, regardless of whether they were insured. Yet the program in Mississippi did not cover wind damage, so tens of thousands of homeowners did not qualify.

Although nearly half of Gulf Coast residents lived in rentals before Katrina, only about a tenth of housing aid has gone toward rebuilding rental units. Now there is a shortage of units, and rents have increased by 30%.

Last week, U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) urged the federal government to deny Mississippi's request, describing it as an "unwarranted diversion of funds and a disservice to displaced Mississippians still in need of affordable housing."

Yet patience is wearing thin among some residents who have rebuilt their homes.

In Gulfport's dilapidated business district, Jerry Maddox, 56, said it was time to invest in encouraging businesses back to the city. "Some people just want the government to do everything," he said. "I wouldn't wait if it was me. I would be moving on."

Several blocks west, William Janas, 65, walked through a FEMA trailer park, clutching a letter notifying him that the park would close by month's end. "I got nowhere to go," he said. "I don't give a damn about the port. The housing recovery is not over."

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No money for the FEMA trailer park children

Sunday, October 21, 2007
Letter to the editor

A 6-year-old child, Blake Pendergrass, was struck and killed by an automobile in Escatawpa the other day. Escatawpa is about 20 miles from my home in Ocean Springs. I didn't know him. I would imagine something like that happens somewhere in America every day -- at least every week. But this one hurt me. Hurt me bad. You see, the little boy lived in a FEMA trailer park -- a Katrina FEMA trailer park in Escatawpa. Escatawpa is -- well, if you were plotting out a Monopoly board, it ain't Boardwalk. It's more like one of the purples right past "Go" -- you know, the ones where the rent for landing on the space is $2.00.

I visited the scene where Blake was killed. The park in which he lived has no playground. Blake was killed while he was crossing the street attempting to get to his "playground." The trailers are stacked in compactly, like sardines in a can. There is no room for a playground, just trailers. And more trailers. All identical. That's how you identify a FEMA trailer park. The trailers have no amenities -- no "identities." Every one is just the same. Twenty-four feet long. Eight feet wide. White. Stacked right together. No thought is given to the children. No parks, no playgrounds, no sidewalks -- the park just screams, "You're just a bunch of poor kids and we don't care."

Immediately across the street from the trailer park sits an abandoned convenience store, complete with a parking lot -- unused. The children of the trailer park have adopted the parking lot as their unofficial playground. Only to get to it they have to cross the street. The "street" is a highway. So 6-year-old Blake Pendergrass was killed while crossing the highway to get from his FEMA trailer home to his abandoned parking lot playground. And on that same day our governor, Haley Barbour, was busy taking $600 million that the people of this nation gave to my community for housing for Katrina victims, people just like little Blake, and turning it over to the business interests at the port of Gulfport, about 30 miles away -- so Dole Pineapple and other multi-million dollar business entities could have that money instead of Blake. You think maybe the people of this nation expected the money given for housing following Katrina would be given to Blake, and not Dole Pineapple?

The people of this great nation gave the victims of that horrible storm $5 billion so we could provide housing for the children like Blake. But it hasn't happened that way. Five billion dollars is enough money to buy 60,000, $80,000 homes -- we lost 65,000 homes (and yes, one can still buy a home for $80,000 in Mississippi). I invite you to drive around my community and I ask you if you see anything that looks remotely like 60,000 homes. Or 30,000 homes. Or even 10,000 homes. Our governor has been so busy passing out money to his friends and cronies, he has managed to build not a single home to cover the needs of a child like Blake -- and there are thousands of children in just the same situation as Blake. The governor gave a lawyer friend of his in Moss Point $1 million. Northrup-Grumman, a major defense contractor was given $250 million. The Hancock Bank, our largest, got the benefit of hundreds of millions. The business entities at the port of Gulfport, $600 million. All diverted from the funds intended to provide housing for Katrina victims.

There are flowers on the side of the road marking the spot where little Blake was killed -- a tribute of sorts I guess. I started crying when I saw them. Oh the horror, the horror. I'm so sorry little fella. I've tried so hard. I've written letters to the editors of dozens of newspapers. I've called Congressmen, Senators. But I am an old man now -- I am tired -- and for the first time in my life I have to own up to it -- I am beaten -- I have failed. I am so sorry Blake. My governor went to Washington, D.C., and got $5 billion. But all he got for you was those damn flowers.

Briley Richmond

Ocean Springs

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Barbour's agenda on Gulf Coast drawing fire

By Ellen Ann Fentress
Special to The Clarion-Ledger

Post-Katrina, Gov. Haley Barbour has kept his Teflon aura, certainly longer than George Bush managed to do post-9-11.

Yet Barbour's agenda is gathering its critics, too. Several legislators complain Barbour's administration isn't forthcoming on specifics of spending the $5.5 billion in aid appropriated by Congress. Also frustrated are Coast community advocates who keep butting up against the reality that the state's recovery is being engineered by an astute politician with more affinity for the well-to-do than those at the bottom.

Barbour chapped both groups recently by proposing to move $600 million in federal relief funds to the state port at Gulfport from its current purpose for housing efforts. The money is part of the $5.5 billion in Community Development Block Grants, the vehicle Congress used to channel hurricane aid to Mississippi.

In defense, Barbour says that the $600 million was intended for the port all along, offering a general breakout for the $5.5 billion, port included. The initial thought was to seek $500 million from the Department of Transportation and $100 million from the Corps of Engineers, he wrote in a letter to House Speaker Billy McCoy. "Congress decided to lump most of our various requests into one pool of money from one department, Community Development Block Grant," the letter said.


That is subject to dispute. After Congress acted in December 2005, port repair money was still considered up in the air in July 2006. A front-page Clarion-Ledger story on July 16, 2006, was headlined "Miss. still without funds to fix port." In the article by Ana Radelat of the paper's Washington bureau, port authority director Don Allee acknowledged he was unsure how much the port would get. That report indicated port money was no done deal.

Even now, the Mississippi Development Authority Web site labels the port proposal as an amendment "redirecting $600 million of the $2.15 billion allocated for Phase I of the Homeowner Assistance Grant Program to the Port of Gulfport Restoration."

"There is no question that that money was appropriated for housing," said Rep. Cecil Brown, of the Legislative Budget Committee. He agrees the port needs funds, but complains neither Barbour nor the port authority offers specifics on spending the $600 million.

During the 2007 session, some House Democrats pushed Barbour for more transparency on doling out the funds. The House passed a bill, which died in the Senate, calling for a legislative advisory committee on recovery spending.

Neighborhood activists - including the Mississippi Center for Justice and the NAACP - have complained that recovery a la Barbour favors the well-to-do over the less fortunate. Phase I of the Homeowners Assistance Grants, by definition, targeted homeowners, and insured ones to boot. Phase II was for homeowners as well. Owner-occupied housing is coming back faster than rentals-perhaps 40 to 1, according to construction permits - and more expensive homes faster than modest ones, found a report last month by the non-profit Rand Corporation. Further, stalled recovery in the rental market has driven rent prices up by 20 percent.


The findings came out, ironically, as Barbour's critics complained about rerouting the housing money. Rand stated affordable housing "remains limited - a factor that has, no doubt, slowed the overall pace of economic recovery along the U.S. Gulf Coast."

Rep. Diane Peranich agrees the state port is important to the Coast's return. "But you won't find anybody say it's at the expense of the homeowners," says Peranich, who moved back into her Delisle home only a few weeks ago after two years in a trailer. Peranich's mother remains in a trailer.

Barbour's letter noted the plan, under discussion, to transfer the present shipping container area inland, would make the port safer in future hurricanes. He did not mention that moving the containers inland would also help clear out a 45-acre tract of the port property, a prospect that has drawn the interest of condo and casino developers.

Meanwhile, an estimated 17,000 households, perhaps 50,000 people, remain in FEMA trailers.

Wouldn't it be nice if when Coast residents hear the phrase "trickle down," it refers to what their new roofs keep out when it rains? "Trickle down" shouldn't be the architecture of the recovery.

Ellen Ann Fentress is a regular contributing columnist to The Clarion-Ledger.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Reps ask HUD to reject port request

By Ana Radelat
Clarion-Ledger Washington Bureau

October 19, 2007

WASHINGTON — Two Democratic lawmakers have asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development to deny Gov. Haley Barbour's request to divert $600 million in Hurricane Katrina housing money for homeowners and spend the money repairing, expanding and improving the Port of Gulfport.

In a letter to HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson released Wednesday night, Reps. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Maxine Waters of California said the move "would constitute an unwarranted diversion of funds and a disservice to displaced Mississippians still in need of affordable housing."

But the lawmakers' request may be premature.

HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the agency has not received Mississippi's proposal, which has been in the works for more than a year.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said the proposal has not officially been submitted to Washington.

The governor proposed giving the port $600 million because it is "crucial to the economy of our state and essential to the revitalization of the Gulf Coast region."

Barbour also said enough money is available in the $2.25 billion Community Development Block Grant program for hurricane victims to divert the money to the port.

About 27,000 homeowners in Mississippi have applied for grants, designed to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes or pay off their mortgages.

The proposal to divert housing money to the port provoked dozens of critical responses during a public comment period in September.

Residents, advocacy groups and pastors said they want to keep the money in the housing program.

Franks and Waters said housing for low- and moderate-income families in Mississippi "remains a critical issue for the state's recovery."

They said 13,800 small rental units were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina but only 6,000 units would be repaired under state recovery plans.

The Democratic lawmakers also said more than 17,000 individuals and families in the state are still living in travel trailers and mobile homes.

Frank has authority over HUD programs as chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services, but the agency may not be able to comply with his requests.

Under certain conditions, Community Development Block Grant money can indeed be spent for economic development.

Barbour already has received permission from HUD to give millions of dollars in grant money to Mississippi utility companies hurt by Katrina.

Congress last year approved a total of $5.5 billion in HUD Community Development Block Grants for the state. But Sullivan said Mississippi has spent only about $1.6 billion.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Schumer Vows Push To Add Wind Coverage To Flood Insurance Program Overhaul Approved By Senate Banking Committee

Reports Estimate That One Million U.S. Homeowners in Northeast Have Had Homeowners' Insurance Policies Cancelled Since 2004

Plan To Cover Wind Damage Would Help Provide Affordable Insurance Policies for Coastal Residents—Proposal Has Already Passed House

October 17, 2007

WASHINGTON—Following the Senate Banking Committee’s passage today of a bill to update the federal flood insurance program, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer vowed to continue to push for the program to include wind damage. The provision—omitted in today’s unanimously approved legislation—would address the rising tendency of insurance companies to deny homeowner insurance policies on coastal areas in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Schumer said adding wind damage to the flood insurance program—as a House-passed measure would do—would offer protection to homeowners on coastal areas like Long Island, and keep insurance premiums there low. He noted how just this week, published reports estimated that since 2004, one million homeowners in the Northeastern United States have seen their policies cancelled.

“This bill takes important steps towards upgrading the flood insurance program, but covering wind damage is a logical, necessary next step,” Schumer said. “Winds from coastal storms can often inflict even greater damage than rising water, but private insurers are leaving homeowners high and dry.”

In recent years, at least half a dozen companies have either stopped writing policies on Long Island, or refused to renew existing policies, some of which were decades old. Allstate, MetLife, Travelers, Liberty Mutual and Nationwide are among the insurers who have begun to pull out of Long Island, citing overexposure and risk due to a potential hurricane strike. Despite a state law that prohibits companies from dropping more than 4% of policies in a year, some companies have found a way around the rule, convincing customers to move to other companies, or offering bonuses to agents who persuade “high-risk” customers to drop coverage. However, for those homeowners that are able to maintain coverage, the spiking premiums can be equally devastating.

To address the crisis, Schumer has proposed a series of updates to the nearly 40-year-old National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is administered by FEMA. Schumer has said the Senate should consider increasing the maximum coverage level above the current limit of $250,000, which he said was “simply too low for areas with higher construction and rebuilding costs.” Significantly, Schumer also called for the NFIP to cover losses caused by wind, not just water. After Hurricane Katrina, many homeowners suffered uncovered losses when companies sought to classify the damage as caused by rising water, which is covered by the federal program, instead of by wind, which isn’t.

Both measures are contained in a bill that has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives.

Late this summer, at the start of the hurricane season, Senator Schumer called for a bipartisan Commission on National Catastrophe Risk Management and Insurance. The Commission would be comprised of 16 members with backgrounds in emergency management, engineering, financial markets, insurance, construction, meteorology, and policy ownership, and would be required to submit a report on their findings and recommendations to the Senate Banking Committee, of which Schumer is a member.


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Senate drops wind from insurance bill

Posted on Thu, Oct. 18, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Banking Committee approved a flood insurance reform bill Wednesday that does not include wind damage, as Gulf Coast lawmakers had hoped, after key senators decided not to offer an amendment expanding the federal program to cover wind.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., dropped their plans to amend the bill with a wind provision when it became clear that the chairman, a ranking Republican, and others from non-coastal states opposed it.

"We weren't going to get it through," said Martinez. "We're going to try and do something on the floor." The Florida Republican said that he was disappointed "but I never had my hopes extremely high."

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., said during the "mark-up" of the bill that he had concerns about the costs of adding wind coverage. "The problem here is we don't know the implications of that," he said. Dodd prefers to rely on the findings of a study commission, already approved by the panel, to look at all-perils coverage.

"It's a very legitimate issue," said Dodd of expanding the program to cover wind damage. "We couldn't answer the implications of cost."

The flood insurance program had to borrow nearly $20 billion from the U.S. Treasury after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which the bill would forgive FEMA from having to repay. The flood insurance program is part of FEMA.

Sen. Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., who lobbied banking panel members, said he would continue to press for wind coverage. "We're going to assess if we can even get it up for consideration," said Lott. "I'm interested in results."

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, the prime mover behind a House-passed flood insurance reform bill that includes "multiperils" of wind and water, remained optimistic.

"That particular committee was a tough audience," said Taylor. "I think the trend is in the right direction, with support from Lott and Sen. (Thad) Cochran, the home builders, the bankers and the Realtors." Cochran is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"It's trending our way," said Taylor. "We always knew it was a fight but I'm encouraged."

The Senate bill reauthorizing the flood insurance program, approved unanimously by the banking committee, would strengthen the flood zone mapping program, forgive FEMA's $20 billion debt and institute mandatory coverage areas. The House version of the bill does not forgive the $20 billion debt.

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Senate committee votes today on flood bill


-- The Senate Banking Committee today votes on a flood insurance reform bill Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mel Martinez, R-Fla., will try to amend to include wind damage - an explosive issue that has roiled coastal communities since Hurricane Katrina.

The House passed a flood insurance bill last month 263 to 146 that included the "multiperil" provision giving policy holders the option to purchase wind coverage, but the bill the Senate Banking Committee will consider or "mark up" will not include the wind provision.

Martinez, however, will offer the wind amendment, said spokesman Ken Lundberg, because "it's a great idea. It would help Florida and other coastal areas."

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Miss., who lost his home in Katrina, said he had spoken with Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and ranking member Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and "Dodd said he needed to do more research and Shelby's against it."

Asked about Schumer, who raised the wind issue during a committee hearing, Lott said, "I hear he's pushing it. I hope he's successful." The New York senator has been angry about insurance companies' refusal to write wind policies on Long Island.

Martinez is concerned Florida's property insurance agency, Citizens Property Insurance, created after private insurers stopped writing policies, would be hurt by a catastrophic storm.

Gulf Coast residents have been battling private insurers over wind damage since Hurricane Katrina, with companies maintaining water, not wind, caused most of the destruction. Water damage is covered by the federal government's program, a part of FEMA.

Lott sued his insurer, State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., and settled earlier this year.

Opponents of the bill, including Shelby, insurers and some public interest groups, say the flood insurance program is essentially bankrupt and adding wind would deplete the government-sponsored program.

The flood insurance program, which is administered by the insurers, had to borrow $17.5 billion more than it took in because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita claims.

The Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2007 has bipartisan support for changes in the program, which would increase premiums, phase out subsidized rates paid by vacation-home owners and raise the flood insurance fund's borrowing authority.

The Schumer-Martinez amendment mirrors the House-passed multiple-peril bill by setting a residential policy limit at $500,000 for the structure and $150,000 for contents. Nonresidential properties would be covered up to $1 million for structure and $750,000 for contents and business interruption. The bill increases the maximum coverage for flood insurance policies from $250,000 to $335,000 for residences.

The wind program would be paid for from actuarially determined premiums.

© 2007 Sun Herald. All Rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cutoff contradicts congressional order

Masthead Text

Friday, October 12, 2007
By Bill Walsh

WASHINGTON -- Despite a congressional directive to make mental health services for the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast a financial priority, the Bush administration has rejected an application by a prominent children's program in New Orleans that now faces cutbacks.

The co-director of the Louisiana State University program, which evaluates and treats children in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina, said services will be scaled back "very considerably" without the $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"The children are the most traumatized in the United States," said Howard Osofsky, chairman of the psychiatry department at LSU Health Sciences Center. "If we are going to prevent the scars and give them the best chance to succeed, they really need these services."

The administration said it is still looking into what occurred but said Congress' failure to approve a spending bill last year for the Department of Health and Human Services might have played a role.

"That would certainly have a big influence on it," said Kay Springer, spokeswoman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which awards the grants.

Key services lacking

As the recovery from the 2005 hurricane season grinds on, the mental health of Gulf Coast residents has been a major concern, as has the shortage of services. A survey of 2,757 children returning to the New Orleans area within a year of Katrina found that 49 percent met the criteria for a mental health referral, 20 percent had been touched by a hurricane-related death or injury, and 33 percent had been separated from parents or guardians.

Concerned about the need, Congress in the $605 billion fiscal 2007 spending bill for the health department directed the agency to give "high priority" in awarding grants to programs treating victims of the Gulf Coast hurricanes as well as families and children of troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, when the agency issued its call for applications earlier this year, it said priority would be given to the treatment of children from broken homes, refugees, those with life-threatening illnesses or those who had relatives serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. It made no mention of Katrina.

Osofsky learned in late September that his application had been rejected.

"I don't want people to panic," he said. "But without the funding we will have to cut back very considerably."

Landrieu blasts denial

The Louisiana Rural Trauma Services Center received a four-year grant in 2003 from the Bush administration and has been held up as a model program. It helps pay to send LSU mental health professionals into schools, courts and Head Start programs in Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes to evaluate and screen youngsters for signs of mental illness and provide follow-up treatment. The program also trains school workers to spot symptoms of mental illness.

Since the storm, Osofsky said, the need has never been greater. He has seen a rise in the incidence of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bullying in the schools and unusually risky adolescent behavior in the parishes still struggling to recover.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., blasted the administration for rejecting the program when the region needs it most.

"It is shocking that during a time of ongoing hurricane recovery in New Orleans, the Department of Health and Human Services would deny funding to this renowned program that provides essential mental health services to the city's children," Landrieu said. "It is further troubling that the agency would disregard the expressly stated intent of Congress to give priority for children's mental health grants to facilities that help children along the Gulf Coast handle the post-traumatic stress of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."

Agency blames Congress
However, the federal health department said Congress might be partly to blame.

Though the House and Senate, controlled by Republicans at the time, each passed their own versions of spending bills for the health department in 2006, Congress failed to reconcile the two versions and pass a final appropriations bill for the agency. Instead, it passed a continuing resolution, which had the effect of maintaining 2006 financing levels throughout fiscal 2007.

Springer, the spokeswoman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, said the agency didn't have Congress' directive to prioritize mental health grants to the Gulf Coast when it put together its program earlier this year.

"We did not have an approved appropriations bill, only a continuing resolution," Springer said. "Any language that would be included in an appropriations bill wasn't available to us."

However, Landrieu spokesman Adam Sharp noted that the agency chose to give priority to children and families of returning war veterans, a directive that was contained in the fiscal 2007 spending bill, but somehow left off hurricane victims. He said that despite Congress' failure to pass all the spending bills last year, some agencies followed Congress' policy directives anyway.

"They chose to use the Iraq language from the fiscal 2007 bill but ignore the Gulf Coast language," he said. "They were clearly picking and choosing. They can't have it both ways."

Landrieu said she hopes to remedy the situation next week. She plans to offer an amendment to the fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services when it comes to the Senate floor. The amendment would direct $400,000 in grant financing to the LSU mental health program.

Bill Walsh can be reached at or (202) 383-7817

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