1. What specific measures would you support to help New Orleans and the Gulf Coast Recover from Hurricane Katrina?
Jamie Eldridge: I support measures similar to those outlined in the Hurricane Katrina Recovery Reclamation, Restoration and Reunion Act of 2005. I support requiring the federal government to rebuild the healthcare infrastructure of the affected regions, establish a Victim Restoration Fund to compensate each Hurricane Katrina claimant to his or her pre-Katrina condition, as well as invest in asset building in these regions to help the residents get out of poverty. The pre-Katrina condition of many residents of the Gulf Coast region was so deplorable, with rampant poverty in many neighborhoods. We must invest in these people to help them rebuild their lives and work to pull them out of poverty.
Niki Tsongas: If elected to Congress, I will work to make sure that homeowners get the funds they need ? in a timely manner ? to rebuild, repair, or move their homes, which is critical to stabilizing the region. Additionally, making sure that rental housing is available is an important step ? both to create a path home for the poorest residents of the region and to provide housing for workers.
2. What steps would you take to ensure that the levees protecting New Orleans do not fail during future storms?
Jamie Eldridge:In Congress, I will work to secure the passage of a bill that will provide funding to create levees that are able to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and that are engineered to withstand the winds and storm surges associated with them. As we have seen, these levees are essential in protecting the lives and home of the residents of New Orleans, and we must invest in the best quality protection for these residents. I also support the proposals for the creation of an independent New Orleans Levee Commission which will be able to deal with any problems in upgrading and managing the levees in the fastest ways possible.
Niki Tsongas: It is clear that investing in a strong levee system is critical both to make New Orleans safe for residents and to encourage businesses to return. I support allocating additional federal funds as well as strong oversight by Congress to ensure that those funds are well-spent and the Army Corps of Engineers delivers on its commitment to a strong levee system
3. What should be done to restore Louisiana’s fragile coastal wetlands, which are the first line of defense against storms in the Gulf?
Jamie Eldridge: I support providing the necessary resources to restore the protective barrier islands, wetlands and marshes that act as a protective barrier against hurricanes and their storm surges. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act places emphasis on restoration projects in Louisiana, but we need to greatly increase the funding for these Gulf Coast states in order to speed up the process. With projections for increased hurricane strength and sea level rise due to global warming, we must take a much more aggressive approach in funding marsh and barrier island restoration projects if we are to avert another disaster of this nature.
Niki Tsongas: As Hurricane Katrina painfully demonstrated, levees alone are not enough to protect coastal residents from the effects of powerful hurricanes. In order to slow the erosion of the southern parishes and buffer coastal communities from hurricane storm surges, Congress needs to provide meaningful funding to replace the native cypress forests and bayous along the Louisiana coast. I also support immediately closing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet that has destroyed wetlands and exacerbated storm damage.
4. What would ensure that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) performs competently in future disasters?
Jamie Eldridge: I am shocked by the FEMA ‘s incompetence during the Katrina disaster, and when I am in Congress I will implement strong steps to avert such mishandling of federal government resources and will ensure that trained, responsible people, not political appointees, are the head of important government agencies such as FEMA. I support initiatives such as The Plan to Restore Excellence and Professional Accountability in Responding to Emergencies (PREPARE) Act, requiring that the director of FEMA have “demonstrated ability or extensive background in emergency or disaster-related management”. It requires that the head of FEMA report directly to the President during “all incidents of national significance, and it requires that “FEMA must operate in accord with the emergency management ‘cycle’ system -requiring the re-unification of preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation efforts.”
Niki Tsongas: The failure of the federal government to protect the residents of New Orleans and respond effectively to Hurricane Katrina revealed deep breaks in our domestic security system ? weaknesses that must be addressed through reforms to the Stafford Act, as well as increased investment in FEMA and state emergency management systems. I will also work to ensure that local first responders are integrated into our national defense system and have all the resources they need ? including interoperable emergency communications systems.
5. Do you support the creation of an 8/29 commission to objectively and independently assess the failure of the Greater New Orleans flood protection system?
Jamie Eldridge: Yes I support the creation of an 8/29 commission to independently assess the Greater New Orleans flood protection system. I find it essential to examine the factors that led to this disaster and use that information to prevent this from ever happening again.
Niki Tsongas: Yes. A comprehensive and objective review of what went wrong in the wake of Hurricane Katrina will help policymakers identify the best way forward.