Criminal Justice

Successful post-Katrina programs in jeopardy of losing federal backing

The Lower Ninth Ward Health Clinic relies on post-Katrina federal grants to operate. Those grants are due to expire this fall putting the clinic in jeopardy

Without a continuation of post-Katrina grants for education, health care and improving the criminal justice system, New Orleans risks losing gains made since the storm, says a report released Wednesday on the state of New Orleans five years after Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans Index at Five, a project of the Brookings Institution and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, presents a broadly optimistic overview of the city’s evolution over the last five years, describing “key reforms” that carry the potential to “transform the city and region.” But even as the report records indicators of the region’s emerging growth, such as higher rates of entrepreneurship, declining blight and improving schools, authors caution that unless money is secured to maintain programs funded by an estimated $42 billion in federal funds that have flowed since the storm, progress will stagnate.

An analysis of the city’s ever-changing public schools, for instance, presents a largely positive review of the expansion of the charter school system and other reforms that have led to better test scores and higher student achievement. These successes, however, are partially attributable to federal grants made after Katrina that allowed schools to spend more money per student, the report points out. Unless policy changes are made or grants are extended, “public schools in New Orleans will face financial problems going forward,” the report warns.

Likewise, the report highlights reforms that have improved the performance of The New Orleans Police Department, but says that these initiatives are “vulnerable to funding cuts and political whimsy.”

In the health care arena, the problem was equally acute with community health clinics now facing an end to the federal grants that have supported their growth since the storm.  “Policy reforms aimed at realigning state-based health care financing to support this network have yet to materialize,” the report said.

The policy analysts aren’t alone with their concern.  City and state officials have asked President Obama to consider these needs as federal agencies redraw budgets.  At a public meeting last night in the Lower Ninth Ward, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the crowd he was doing everything in his power to keep federal grants coming, particularly those supporting community-based health clinics such as the one in their neighborhood. The clinics are instrumental to keeping the city safe, Landrieu said, and “we need to get the federal government to understand if they don’t fund these clinics, they will go away.”

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