Not Katrina: Northeast Area’s Affluence Could Be Reason for Aid Delay

Not Katrina: Northeast Area’s Affluence Could Be Reason for Aid Delay


This week, during New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s  “State of the State” address, he made sure to weave in his disappointment over delayed aid to Hurricane Sandy victims.  New Jersey went 72 days without relief, 7 times longer than the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

And it seems he wasn’t the only one upset over the discrepancy in aid response.

Just last Friday, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid got a bit ahead of himself defending the North east coast Sandy victims on the House floor.

During floor debates, Reid said within days in 2005, Congress voted in aid to help victims of Katrina in Mississippi and Alabama and “especially Louisiana.”

“We are now past two months with the people of New York and the people of New Orleans and that area they were hurt, but nothing in comparison to the people in New England,” Reid  said.

But then, Reid found himself eating his words and apologizing for that bout of revisionist blurry vision, insinuating that Sandy victims suffered more than Gulf area residents after Katrina

Reid was among the rain of bipartisan legislatures who lambasted Speaker of the House John Boehner for first agreeing to bring an aid package for vote before the end of the last legislative session, then changing his mind last minute.

In fact, the entire issue almost flew under most people’s radar’s as last week, most were focused on the fiscal cliff debacle. After the votes on Wednesday, minutes before the end of the 112th legislative session, Representatives and Senators from states impacted by Sandy plead their case one last time for a near $60 billion aid package. When it didn’t happen they called Boehner and assailed House republicans.

But alas, it turns out Boehner had reason to pause.  The version of the bill the Senate passed was saddled with funding for pork projects for areas and states unaffected by the hurricane. Eventually, Boehner brought the measure to the floor stripped of those irrelevant additions and President Barack Obama signed an initial $9.7 billion package this week.

But that didn’t stop Gulf area lawmakers from speaking up to lambast Reid’s mischaracterization of the devastation of the Katrina damage.

“Sadly, Harry Reid has again revealed himself to be an idiot, this time gravely insulting Gulf Coast residents,” Republican Senator David Vitter stated in a release yesterday. “Both Katrina and Sandy were horribly destructive storms that caused real human misery. And by most any measure, Katrina was our worst natural disaster in history.”

Pain is pain and there really shouldn’t be any comparison. But when one thinks about it further, it appears there could be something there: perceived affluence of the region.

In 2010, when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana and other gulf states, Americans saw media images of dead bodies covered in the streets, stranded women and children on top of rooftops and scores and scores of people lining every square inch of the Louisiana Superdome.

The Red Cross created an innovated option that allowed everyday people to donate as little as $10 via a simple text message to the effort. And within 7 days of the natural disaster, $514 Million was raised for Katrina. Compare that to the mere $85 million raised in 7 days for Sandy victims.

And it seems that Katrina may be to Sandy what Haiti was to Japan. Both regions suffered the same type of natural disaster yet received demonstratively disparate amount of support.

Aid and donation from the US to Japanese earthquake victims was less compared to Haiti.  The Red Cross managed to raised $302 total for Japan compared to $475 million for Haiti.  Perhaps, it was due partially to the fact that the Japanese government may have been slow to organize itself and request aid and maybe did not necessarily know what to request or maybe because that nation is so far away from the US compared to Haiti so the distance contributed. But surely another factor could be the perceived affluence of that nation. While Haiti consistently ranks as the poorest nation in the world, Japan ranks as the third richest.

Similarly, Louisiana had higher levels of poverty while New York, Connecticut and New Jersey include more wealthier areas and are traditionally and generally considered better off.

Whatever reason for the delay, perhaps because of a distracted public that may have not had the same level of empathy for the victims,  67 Republicans voted against the initial $9 billion aid package. Certainly, those members did not appreciate all the angry phone calls they got from irate Sandy victims.

Most explained away their dissent by pointing to bloated federal spending.

The general antagonism towards the rich or perceived rich in this political climate could indeed have contributed to slower response to Sandy, but in the end, many Americans still came to the aid of their Northeast coast brethrens.

By Friday after the storm, the Red Cross raised $117 million in donations and 10 states, DC and Puerto Rico all pledged relief workers. The Salvation Army raised another $5 million by phone