NEW ORLEANS, LA -- During a visit to New Orleans today, U.S. Senator Barack Obama announced his plan to rebuild the Gulf Coast, and ensure that such catastrophic failures in emergency response never happen again.
"America failed the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast long before that failure showed up on our television sets. America failed them again during Katrina. We cannot -- we must not -- fail for a third time," Obama said. But tragically, that's what's happening today. And that's what needs to change. I am here to remember this, but also to look ahead. We need to rebuild this city. And we need to tend to the foundation that we rebuild upon."
Senator Obama, who in the days following Katrina traveled to Houston to meet with displaced residents, and continued to travel to New Orleans to assess the city's recovery over the past two years, once again returned to New Orleans today. Speaking at First Emanuel Baptist Church and walking with local residents around New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood, Obama laid out the specific steps he will take as president to move the region's recovery forward and ensure that the next time disaster strikes, the government is ready.
Barack Obama's comprehensive plan, which can be viewed here, includes:
- Ensuring the FEMA Director reports directly to President Obama, serves a fixed six-year term so he or she is insulated from political pressure, and has professional emergency management experience.
- Developing the health care infrastructure by building new facilities and providing incentives like loan forgiveness to attract more medical professionals back to New Orleans.
- Creating a special "COPS for Katrina" program to empower communities to hire local enforcement personnel, as well as helping local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies establish an integrated regional crime control partnership.
- Rebuilding schools and assisting communities in the Gulf Coast to make necessary infrastructure investments so kids from all backgrounds have safe and supportive environments to learn. Creating a loan forgiveness program to bring college students back to New Orleans.
- Developing transit partnerships to ensure public transit is integrated across New Orleans' parish lines and a possible rail line connecting New Orleans with Baton Rouge.
- Ensuring that every displaced resident has a home to return to, by strengthening the Road Home Program, working with the state to guarantee that every application for housing assistance will be approved no later than two months after it is received, and increasing the supply of rental property.
- Rebuilding the local economy, both by fighting to ensure more local residents direct and implement Katrina-related recovery and reconstruction activities, as well as targeting tax incentives to lure businesses to the hardest hit areas of the Gulf Coast.
- Working with emergency management officials, emergency responders and other experts from all 50 states to create a real National Response Plan, which will ensure we have fully-trained and prepared personnel to respond to disasters across the United States.
- Creating a National Catastrophe Insurance Reserve, which will save homeowners $11.6 billion on annual insurance premiums.
- Ensuring that New Orleans has a levee and pumping system to protect the city from a Category 5 storm.
"Let New Orleans be the place where we strengthen those bonds of trust, where a city rises up on a new foundation that can be broken by no storm," Obama said. Let New Orleans become the example of what America can do when we come together, not a symbol of what we couldn't do."
This is Obama's fourth visit to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina and comes days before the two year anniversary of the disaster. Since the catastrophe, Obama has successfully pushed legislation in the U.S. Senate to plan for evacuation of people with special needs, create a centralized federal database to account for individuals displaced in an emergency and fight wasteful no-bid contracts. Additionally, along with other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Senator Obama has worked to address the immediate income, employment, business and housing needs of Gulf Coast communities affected by the storm.