Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

Congress' war bill helps Iraqi refugees, could ignore homeless Hurricane Katrina victims

Congress' war bill helps Iraqi refugees, could ignore homeless Hurricane Katrina victims

A long way from Iraq and the war debate in Washington, Herman Moore sat outside a tent in a downtown New Orleans homeless camp, trying to make sense of a proposal that helps Iraqi war refugees but will likely exclude Hurricane Katrina victims.
"Messed up is not the phrase. I think you know the phrase," Moore said. "This place has been forgotten, just forgotten."
The 56-year-old lifelong city resident is referring to Congress' plan to spend $212 billion to finance the war in Iraq. In the massive spending bill, $350 million is set aside to help Iraqi refugees while just $73 million has been allotted to help shelter physically and mentally disabled Katrina victims _ and that money could be cut as early as Tuesday.
Along with funding the war through the first month of the next president's term, the bill provides Jordan's military $100 million and Mexico's armed forces $50 million. In response, lawmakers like Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu have attached over $30 billion to the proposal for what they see as domestic priorities.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must trim the bill or face a threatened veto from President George W. Bush. While the California Democrat supports the housing money for 3,000 rent-aid vouchers, it is part of $2.9 billion in Katrina assistance that may end up being cut.
Landrieu said the housing assistance funds are vital to a city that has seen its homeless population double to an estimated 12,000 since the 2005 disaster.
"I fully support giving our troops the funding they need and am concerned about the plight of Iraqi refugees," the Democrat wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "But we cannot neglect the most pressing emergency here at home along the Gulf Coast."
Unfortunately for Landrieu, some fellow Democrats do not have that appetite for spending. A group of 49 moderate to conservative congressional Democrats, known as the Blue Dog Coalition, support cutting the housing vouchers in an effort to tame the national debt. While declining to comment on the prospect of helping Iraqi refugees while overlooking Katrina victims, Blue Dog leader Rep. Allen Boyd wrote in an e-mail that the $9 trillion national debt includes significant amounts financed by foreign banks.
"In this bill and others, the Blue Dogs and I are pushing for our priorities to be paid for, instead of borrowing the money from China that will have to be paid back with interest by our children and grandchildren," Boyd said.
Those arguments do not mean much to Patrick Clark, 43, as he stocked his tent with donated food at the homeless camp Friday. He said the government was all too willing to increase the debt with war spending but is turning its back on those most in need of help after Katrina.
"People died. People lost homes, jobs," said Clark, a former truck driver who has had trouble finding work since the storm. "We should help people right here."
Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans and killed 1,600 in Louisiana and Mississippi. In its wake, homelessness has become painfully visible.
A 150-person shantytown in front of City Hall where Clark and Moore once lived has since moved to a freeway underpass near the Louisiana Superdome.
The residents are a mix of people suffering from mental health problems, drug addiction and physical ailments. In recent weeks, it has thinned out with the warmer temperatures, some people going to shelters and others into gutted and abandoned homes.
Tourists, professional sports teams and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards have visited the site, at times equating the several blocks of tattered men and women to a refugee camp.
"When the Katrina disaster happened we couldn't help but notice here was forced displacement in the richest country in the world," said Joel Charny, vice president for policy for Refugees International, a Washington-based humanitarian advocacy organization.
"You just don't want to be in a situation where it's either money for people who are disabled and really hurting in New Orleans, as opposed to money for people who are dislocated because of the war in Iraq," he said. "Our view, at the risk of sounding naive, is that money would be available for both."
Advocates have lobbied for the housing vouchers for years. They were cut from the 2006 war supplemental bill under similar political pressures.
"I'm pleading with them not to negotiate with the lives of 3,000 of our most vulnerable citizens," said Valerie Keller, co-chair of the Louisiana Supportive Housing Coalition. "People have been languishing in New Orleans for two and a half years."


Updated : 2021-05-11 22:48 GMT+08:00