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Katrina Cash Cow -- NY Group Asks: ‘Where’s the Beef?’

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August 29, 2007

New York, NY – In the two years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast, nearly $17 billion has been poured into housing relief, and a New York-based civil rights group continues its fight to "follow the money."

Damon Hewitt, assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, says under federal rules, at least half of that money (about $7 billion) must go to low- and middle-income storm victims. The group filed a lawsuit in February to force the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development to release the numbers, and it's still fighting.

"The first principle is transparency: show us the money, show us the trail. We want to make sure that the state and the feds are doing right by people who are trying to do their best to rebuild and recover."

In a separate case, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund also has been fighting to get students back to school in the disaster zone. In January, more than 300 schoolchildren were still on waiting lists, being told there was no room for them at any Louisiana school. Damon Hewitt argued that case, Boisseu v Picard, which was brought on behalf of the students against the Louisiana Recovery District.

"In an effort to resolve the litigation, the State Board of Education agreed, and recently adopted a policy that prohibits wait-listing children. It also sets a date certain by which students must be enrolled in classes after they register. I think that’s just a complete victory, vindicating the rights of students, and it’s hopefully not going to be a problem in the future."

In the housing case, HUD officials argue that the spending documents are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because they are part of ongoing audits in New Orleans and Mississippi. Hewitt says if the paper trail shows the money is not reaching the right people, then more legal action is likely.

Michael Clifford/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY