The disparate effects of Hurricane Ida

The disparate effects of Hurricane Ida

The destructive power of a major hurricane does not discriminate between rich and poor, white and Black. But recovering from a major storm – on the heels of a global pandemic – is much harder for people and communities that had the least to start with. Aaron Morrison of the Associated Press spoke with grassroots leaders in New Orleans about the ways structural racism and economic inequality has made recovery particularly hard for low-income, Black and brown communities.  

In Louisiana, where 17 storms that caused at least $1 billion in damage have hit since 2000, nonprofits see some of the most dire need and the starkest divide along socioeconomics lines. “One of the things that we get really frustrated about, in terms of the narrative, is people saying, ’Ugh, Louisiana is so resilient,” said Ashley Shelton of the Power Coalition for Equality and Justice, a statewide nonprofit that provides resources and encourages civic participation in underserved communities of color. “We don’t want to be resilient forever,” she said. “Yes, we’re beautiful and resourceful people. But when you force people to live in a constant state of resilience, it’s just oppression. Fix the systems that are structurally broken.”

The facts about disaster food assistance
People in southeast Louisiana who’ve been affected by Hurricane Ida may be eligible for federal food assistance, even if they normally make too much money to qualify for benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That’s because the U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxes the rules after federally declared disasters so that people who experienced a temporary economic setback will still have enough resources to buy food. The Advocate’s Mark Ballard reports that an estimated 150,000 Louisianans might be eligible for for help through D-SNAP:

“For somebody who makes a pretty high income but doesn’t have access to income coming in now, say their business was closed down because of the storm, and all of their other resources have to be dedicated to recovery, then they probably would be eligible,” said Danny Mintz, director of safety net policy at the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Budget Project, an organization that studies financial policies and advocates on behalf of low and middle income people. “But the important message is if they think they may make too much to qualify and they had losses and are experiencing hardships, it’d be worth their while to apply,” he added.

A hurricane setback for students
The Covid-19 pandemic kept many Louisiana children at home for the 2020-21 school year, and test scores generally suffered as a result. Now the damage from Hurricane Ida is delaying the much-anticipated return to classrooms for thousands of students in south Louisiana. In the state’s hardest-hit areas, it could be weeks or even months before kids return to class. The AP’s Matt Sedensky reports:

After the storm destroyed their house in Dulac, a stretch of Cajun country swampland, Penny Verdin’s two children and a nephew she cares for began cramming each night into a car, along with a gecko, a hamster and a squirrel named Honey. They hope to use some lumber and tin from the carcass of their home to fashion a new shack they can stay in. The children are smiling, one doing handstands on the soggy lawn, another fishing a 3-foot gator out of a creek, but Verdin, 43, says they’ve been shaken up by the storm. After a year in which nearly the whole family fell sick with COVID-19 and her disability checks were suddenly halted, she’s worried about them falling behind in their studies. “It’s going to be a big catch-up,” she says. 

The problem with the State Police (cont…) 
The Louisiana State Police, currently under a federal civil rights investigation following reports and videos of violent beatings of Black people at the hands of officers, punishes whistleblowers more harshly than troopers who helped cover up the violent death of a Black motorist in north Louisiana. The Advocate’s Lea Skene tells the story of Carl Cavalier, a Black trooper who leaked internal agency documents about the death of motorist Ronald Greene and published a novel under a pseudonym that looks at the experience of being a Black law enforcement officer in Louisiana. 

Cavalier was recently notified he faces a five-week unpaid suspension for violating State Police policies by publishing his book — a punishment more severe than the agency has meted out to almost any of the troopers involved in the violent arrest that left Greene dead and the apparent coverup that followed. The discrepancy in discipline has raised eyebrows as State Police leaders scramble to restore public trust in the agency by demonstrating their commitment to rooting out racist behavior and holding troopers accountable for misconduct.

Number of the Day
25,489 – Number of households in southwest Louisiana that qualified for disaster food assistance last year after Hurricane Laura, of 31,707 households that applied for aid. An estimated 150,000 Louisianans may be eligible for D-SNAP in the wake of Hurricane Ida (Source: The Advocate)