Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sonny Bono Memorial Award

Shortly before his death in a skiing accident, Congressman Sonny Bono appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews. After several self-deprecating jokes--such as that at his first committee meeting the other congressmen were looking at him with expressions that he read to be; Tell me this guy is here to deliver the pizzas--he said to Matthews that he actually thought it would be better if there were more people in congress with his background. I.e. , people with a history of hustling to earn a living. Because he knew that there were people who would try to game the system.

He might have been thinking of people like this:

With hundreds of thousands forced from homes battered by Hurricane Katrina, the federal government cut red tape to rush $2,000 checks and debit cards to help victims pay for clothes, food, transportation and a place to live.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency intended the aid for displaced Gulf Coast families and limited it to one payment per household.

But in three Louisiana parishes, FEMA issued more checks than there are households, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $70 million, a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation has found.

And in 36 parishes and counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, FEMA awarded $102 million to at least 51,000 more applicants than local officials said were displaced by the storm.

....In Mobile, Ala., residents coached each other on the right words to use when calling FEMA to get the $2,000. Many who received the money never had to leave their homes. Mobile Police Lt. Christon Dorsey, a member of a hurricane fraud task force, estimated fewer than 300 Mobile County residents were displaced and in need of emergency aid, not the 17,050 who collected $34.1 million.

In Pike County, Miss., Katrina displaced 25 families, yet 2,494 collected nearly $5 million and "made a ton of money," said Civil Defense Director Richard Coghlan.

"I'll tell you, it was Christmas," Coghlan said. "We're talking plasma TVs. We're talking stereos. We're talking bicycles."

Now why might have FEMA been so lax?

FEMA began the $2,000 "expedited assistance" a week after Katrina devastated coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, and as the government faced criticism for its slow response.

"We are committed to cutting red tape and getting help to people who need it," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "We are getting real assistance in record time."

FEMA waived its usual procedure of sending an inspector to an applicant's home to first verify damage. Instead, it approved payments based on a phone call or online application, which the agency said took 20 minutes.

....Some local officials said FEMA may have been motivated to counter earlier criticism. In the days immediately after the storm, the government was repeatedly accused of abandoning victims and waiting too long to send in troops and supplies.

"I suspect after the bad publicity that they just started throwing money out," said Ronnie Hughes, president of Ascension, La. Parish, where 1,552 residents collected $3.1 million. "We did not have 1,500 families displaced in Ascension Parish, I can tell you that."

Such were the incentives created by the caterwauling of television whiners instructed to get angry during appearances on talk shows. And people took advantage of that to the nation's detriment. Thanks Tim Russert, Chris Matthews (who'd been warned about this by Congressman Bono), and those in the left blogosphere who supposedly are trained to know better.

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