Editorial: Parishes need disaster money

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.

• • •

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.