We welcome news of President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Louisiana today to survey flood damage, which should help to advance relief and recovery in the disaster area as a national priority.
Beyond the powerful symbolism of a presidential visit, much substantive work remains to be done after Obama leaves town, and the scale of the catastrophe argues for a sustained federal role in making the region whole.
We’re grateful for the substantial federal help already deployed to suffering south Louisiana, which speaks well of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Obama’s administration. The agency has improved on Obama’s watch and is more nimble than the institution that, in the days after Hurricane Katrina, made FEMA synonymous with bureaucratic incompetence.
The legacy of those administrative tangles was very much in place when Obama became president in 2009. His administration acted with flexibility and good faith in resolving disputes over disaster funding, which paved the way for construction of the new University Medical Center in New Orleans and rebuilding New Orleans public schools.
That kind of creativity and commitment from Washington will be equally critical in helping Louisiana to rebound from this month’s historic flood. We ask the president to head that crusade, and a crusade it must be, for the size of the devastation argues for a massive marshaling of federal resources.
Thousands of displaced homeowners pose the biggest threat to the region’s recovery, and some form of housing assistance beyond what FEMA’s rules presently allow will almost certainly be necessary. The president can be a key voice in championing that goal.
A flood that left much of the region underwater means a huge impact on the federal flood insurance program. Now, more than ever, homeowners and businesses will need affordable flood insurance to draw investment to the region. Access to flood insurance is important not only to Louisiana, but communities across America that could easily be surprised by a flood of their own. The president can use his bully pulpit to promote a sustainable flood insurance program as a national priority, and we hope he does so.
Reasonable flood insurance rates can’t be maintained unless policymakers address the risk of future flooding. That will be the most challenging and costly — but also the most vital — part of the policy puzzle for south Louisiana, and its resolution depends on a robust federal commitment.
Over the years, state, local and federal officials envisioned ambitious flood control projects, such as dams and diversion canals, that could have lessened this month’s flooding if they had been in place. Sadly, the projects progressed on a piecemeal basis as pockets of federal funding became available. The fruits of that folly were evident, as the timid incrementalism of political expedience left lives and property in unnecessary danger.
America can — and must — do better.
Vigorous federal support for comprehensive flood control projects made the New Orleans area safer after Katrina, and did so in a timely basis. The Baton Rouge area now needs the same commitment from Washington.
We have no illusions about the challenges of the recovery. The president is in the twilight of his term, and on Capitol Hill, stalemate is the order of the day. But the people of Louisiana cannot afford to wait for the winds of political fortune to change. What happened here is a national emergency that calls for speed and bipartisan resolve. We call on President Obama to lead the charge.