Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 7:04 PM
While Gov. Bobby Jindal must keep the state on a fiscally sound course, withholding emergency operation money from parishes is not a wise move this close to the start of hurricane season.
Jindal recently decided to withhold the bulk of $5.5 million in annual federal emergency operations aid from local governments.
In a March 4 letter, emergency directors for Orleans, St. Bernard, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes blasted the move and pleaded with Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security, to reconsider.
“Parishes are already facing difficult budget cuts, forcing them to do more with less. In this case, we will all have to do less with less,” the letter states. “Many parishes will no longer be able to sustain current levels of emergency capacity.”
Facing a lean budget year and diminishing disaster funds from the federal government, GOHSEP argued that it needs the money to shore up its own emergency teams and to continue training local agencies. Under the grant program, the state does not have to send the money to the parishes, although it has delivered between 30 and 40 percent of it each year since 2008.
The money isn’t necessarily free. Federal guidelines require the recipient to pay for half the budget of any approved programs or purchases. Davis said the state has been picking up that tab rather than passing it on to local governments. He also accused parishes of not spending the federal money fast enough to meet federal deadlines.
“It hurts,” New Orleans Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed said. “What the state is saying, by taking 80 percent, is that they’re more important than we are.”
Davis countered that the importance of emergency response should be reflected in the city’s budget and not be reliant on the grant.
“If this is a critical need, New Orleans needs to make this a priority and fund it,” he said.
While there is a lot of sense to what Davis is saying, the fact is we have to live with the system as it currently exists. Just months before the start of Hurricane season, the governor shouldn’t be making last-minute changes that may make citizens more vulnerable to disasters.
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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.