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Compassionate conservatism, my ass:

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the Federal Emergency Management Agency created a "Kafkaesque" process that began cutting off rental aid in February to victims of the 2005 storms, did not provide clear reasons for the denials, and hindered applicants' due-process rights to fix errors or appeal government mistakes.

"It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights," Leon, a D.C. federal judge, wrote in a 19-page opinion.

"Free these evacuees from the 'Kafkaesque' application process they have had to endure," he wrote.

The decision again casts a spotlight on the fate of the poorest members of the diaspora created by the 2005 disasters in New Orleans and along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. The hurricanes forced a search for housing that was one of their least visible but most far-reaching consequences.

According to FEMA, of the 720,590 households that have received rental assistance, only 33,889 families remained eligible for aid as of Oct. 19. An additional 108,088 families, mostly homeowners, are still in FEMA-provided trailers and mobile homes. As a rule of thumb, analysts estimate each household includes nearly three people.

FEMA expects fewer than 4,700 of 2.6 million applicant families to exceed a $26,200 cap on all forms of post-disaster aid by March, when an 18-month statutory cutoff takes effect.

Is FEMA now being run by a bunch of health insurance industry executives who have put it in the business of not paying claims by making you jump through hoops until you are so exhausted and frustrated and confused that you no longer know which way or which hoop is next?  Because that is sure as hell what it sounds like.

I have been hearing story after story from Gulf Coast readers of how bad their individual situations have been in trying to wade through the morass of paperwork, lost claim forms, refilings and the like, and the slowness of processing all of this mess, but I had no idea how systematically horrid and stacked against these people the system had been set up to be.  

I am a lawyer by training, and I know how incredibly unwieldy and unreadable a great number of those claim form documents can be, just from helping a client or two fill theirs out in my private practice days when we had flooding issues where FEMA chipped in to help, and I was often representing poor, undereducated folks for whom those claim forms were both a nightmare and a lifeline. And that was back in the Clinton days when FEMA wasn't so broken.  I know what the claim check meant to those folks, and what it must mean to thousands of Americans struggling to reconstitute some measure of their lives — and who were promised help that has, still yet, not arrived.

This is unconscionable.  And every American ought to be outraged by this treatment.  It is neither compassionate nor competent, and it is a systematic failure and a disgusting game of bait-and-switch with people's lives to have the United States government promise assistance and then make it next-to-impossible to actually get some. 

To do so to folks who are so often poor and undereducated, who have problems with reading comprehension and all sorts of mental health and physical issues, who have no safety net whatsoever, and who were living hand to mouth before Katrina took away what little bit they had managed to scrape together for themselves…it is cruel and inhumane and so much less than any American should ever tolerate. 

Who are we, as a nation, if these people's lives do not matter enough for all of us to stand up and say "This is not right.  Fix it."

That it took a Federal Judge to make this clear to the Bush Administration and the FEMA Administrator who set these policies in the first place?  Pathetic.  That entreties to the rubber stamp Republican Congress (and Joe Lieberman, who as ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee sure did one heckuva job of raising this issue to the public when it wasn't getting enough oversight, didn't he?) went unnoticed, unanswered or ignored altogether?  Even more pathetic.

I do not know where to start with this other than to say that this appalling nastiness ought to be broadcast in every town square in America.  These people, these nasty heartless people, who run the Bush Administration should be publicly shamed with this decision every single time they step foot anywhere in this nation.  These are our fellow Americans, whether you know them personally or not — and they deserve a hell of a lot better than this.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com

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