How to Torture New Orleans: The Road Home Program

One of the persistent myths of the post-Katrina story is the "the federal government sent all this money to New Orleans". Well, yes and, really no. Yes, the feds sent trailers--the big ones still sitting in Hope, Arkansas, the little ones the subject of debate about the level of formaldehyde fumes inside--and the feds, in the form of the Army Corps of Engineers (who caused the disaster in the first place), formed a nice pyramid of subcontractors so that a debris-removal program that cost $172 a ton at the prime level paid the guys who actually picked up the stuff around $5 a ton.

But the true rebuke to that plaint of federal money raining down on an ungrateful Crescent City is the largely unreported saga of the Road Home program, the main conduit by which federal funds were to compensate homeowners for the damage wrought by the disaster of 2005. The short version: the feds didn't trust the city of New Orleans to disburse the money--presumably, it was more crooked than Boston or Newark, or Washington itself--so it held up the funds until the state agreed to run the program, teasingly called the "Road Home". The state, after devising enough hoops to satisfy Washington that crooked New Orleanians wouldn't jump through them all, outsourced the administration of the program to ICF International, a Virginia company which not only wrote the specs for the bid for the program, but which was so overjoyed with the $700-million-plus contract that resulted that it immediately filed to go public.

All that's ancient history, and almost unfindable journalism. The latest: the discovery that the program is on track to be several billion dollars in the hole, and the feds' refusal thus far to make up the deficit. The feds blame the state for not discriminating between victims of wind and water damage (the insurance companies have made such discrimination a veritable pro sport in Louisiana), the state says--well, this radio interview from WWL features the most cogent spokesperson for the state's p.o.v., Walter Leger, a member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority which devised the program but which, pointedly. did not decide to employ ICF. It's all just complicated enough to frustrate the thousands and thousands of New Orleanians who, let down by their insurance companies, have been waiting for almost two years for President Bush's Jackson Square pledge to come true.