A U.S. District Judge handed Katrina victims a victory yesterday and dealt a blow to the Bush administration all in one fell swoop. The judge ordered that “the Bush administration unconstitutionally denied aid to tens of thousands of Gulf Coast residents displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita and must resume payments immediately.”
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the Federal Emergency Management Agency created a “Kafkaesque” process that began cutting off rental aid in February to victims of the 2005 storms, did not provide clear reasons for the denials, and hindered applicants’ due-process rights to fix errors or appeal government mistakes.
“It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Leon, a D.C. federal judge, wrote in a 19-page opinion.
“Free these evacuees from the ‘Kafkaesque’ application process they have had to endure,” he wrote.
Katrina victim advocates say that “FEMA has resisted providing details about its programs to them or to applicants and has whittled down rolls by imposing obstacles to obtaining aid that is mandated under federal disaster laws.”
Administration defenders say that FEMA adopted tougher rules to combat fraud, and that plummeting rolls are a sign that victims have recovered and are moving on.
It’s astounding what these victims of Katrina, most of whom are “poorest members of the diaspora created by the 2005 disasters in New Orleans and along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts,” have had to suffer at the hands of the Bush administration. Once again a light has been shown on the dark doings of the Bush administration and what we see is ugly indeed.