Below is a joint letter we began and have been encouraging supporters to send to the Obama Administration’s Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group, a group tasked with advising President Obama on the future of disaster recovery. We are urging the Working Group to support resident-led, human rights-based recovery policy modeled after HR 2269. If your organization would like to support this effort please email email@example.com.
The Honorable Shaun Donovan
Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Co-Chair, Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group
Washington, DC 20410
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Co-Chair, Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretaries Donovan and Napolitano,
This Human Rights Day we urge the Obama Administration and specifically the Inter-Agency Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group to bring human rights home for our nation’s disaster survivors.
On this fifth Human Rights Days since Hurricane Katrina, our national response has yet to properly protect the well-being of America’s most vulnerable people and places through long-term disaster recovery policies which restore the environment, rebuild lives and respect human rights. Since 2005 Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have witnessed four large regional disasters, Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, in which the local populations have expressed frustrations and anxiety in the governments’ inability to address the needs of people impacted. The federal government has still yet to ensure meaningful participation of disaster survivors in determining how funds can be best used to meet their recovery needs. These storms will certainly not be our last national disasters, but we must learn their lessons, so we can ensure a more comprehensive response in the future. As we look across America’s Gulf Coast, we see:
- Tens of thousands of displaced survivors unable to return home with dignity and safety;
- Families living in FEMA trailers as they struggle to access resources to rebuild their homes;
- Homelessness and rental housing costs rising while affordable housing projects grind to a halt with the crash of financial markets;
- Over 2 million residents of coastal Louisiana increasingly vulnerable to future disasters and internal displacement or mass relocation due to coastal land loss and climate change.
- Insufficient access to health care facilities, particularly in the areas of mental health where needs for these facilities and services have grown substantially for survivors;
- Many more unable to access proper training and living wage work to pay for life’s necessities and find pathways out of poverty.
We must act now to put in place policies to ensure that we rebuild more resilient and equitable neighborhoods, restore the environment and empower our brothers and sisters to lift themselves from poverty and overcome devastation and discrimination.
If the U.S. hopes to serve as an example to the world, we must start by ensuring that the survivors of our nation’s largest disaster realize their fundamental rights. For years, the U.S. has worked to implement the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in our international aid policies while not abiding by these same vigorous standards at home, and instead insisting that the federal government did not hold a primary responsibility in domestic disaster recovery. This inconsistency has opened our nation to criticism. In fact, one of the very first reports heard by UN Human Rights Committee after the United States became a member this year condemned the U.S. for not providing adequate and equitable assistance to Hurricane Katrina’s most vulnerable survivors.
We welcomed the initiative of this Administration to take a much needed new look at federal recovery policies. Still we were disappointed that the Working Group did not include a significant number of voices representing residents with disabilities, elderly, low income, minority, and immigrant communities—our most vulnerable people—in its initial stakeholder meetings. These community leaders have been on the forefront of rebuilding their neighborhoods, developing responsive local recovery plans, implementing model projects and advocating for common sense policy reform for more than four years. Instead of being left out of the process, they ought to be seen as resources whose knowledge can be leveraged in planning policy and in the implementation of future recovery efforts to guard against future mistakes.
The Working Group can still act to protect our most vulnerable communities by supporting federal policies to ensure all people realize their right to return home with dignity and safety and to participate in their community’s recovery.
We encourage the federal government to promote innovative partnerships with local governments, faith-based and community organizations to meet these goals. Specifically, we ask the Working Group to look to the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act as a policy embraced by a growing bi-partisan coalition of grassroots and elected leaders for how the federal government can partner with disaster survivors in empowering human rights-based recovery.
Together we can inspire community action and a renewed federal disaster partnership, beginning along America’s Gulf Coast. Such a policy can help replace a national tragedy characterized by toxic FEMA Trailers, controversial development projects and abusive contractors, with an uplifting success story exemplified by survivors realizing their rights, returning to rebuild their lives and communities and the federal government making good on its promises and responsibilities.
We urge the U.S. Administration to support national disaster recovery policy based on the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act to:
- Provide targeted training and hiring of disaster survivors for jobs rebuilding their communities;
- Equitably rebuild affordable housing and vital community infrastructure after disasters;
- Restore environment and natural disaster mitigation, including wetlands and barrier islands;
- Promote energy efficiency and resiliency to future disasters and climate change in recovery projects;
- Make contracting and subcontracting opportunities accessible to local businesses; and
- Work with community and faith-based non-profits and local governments to allow communities to participate in planning and implementing recovery projects to better target the needs and ensure the rights of vulnerable populations, especially women, residents with disabilities, elderly, low income, minority, and immigrant communities.
We can not wait for another Human Rights Day to pass without taking meaningful steps to recognize the rights of disaster survivors. We look forward to working with the U.S. Administration to meet these vital goals along America’s Gulf Coast and across the nation.
- Dianne Aid, President, Episcopal Network for Economic Justice
- Rev. Ken Brooker-Langston, Director, Disciples Justice Action Center
- Larry Cox, Executive Director Amnesty International USA
- Dr. Iva Carruthers, Executive Director, Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference
- Charlie Clements, CEO and President, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
- DeWayne Davis, Domestic Policy Analyst, The Episcopal Church
- Annette Dickerson, Director of Education & Outreach, Center for Constitutional Rights
- Levvone Dubose, CEO and Housing Coordinator, Bay Area Women Coalition, Inc.
- Derrick Evans, Director, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives
- Mary Fontenot, Executive Director, All Congregations Together (ACT)
- Sharon Gauthe, Executive Director, Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO)
- The Right Rev. Charles E. Jenkins, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of LA
- Lan Le, Executive Director, National Alliances of Vietnamese American Service Agencies
- Rev. LeDayne McLeese Polaski, Program Coordinator, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
- Dr. Scott Myers Lipton, Co-founder, Gulf Coast Civic Works Project
- Marylee M. Orr, Executive Director, Louisiana Environmental Action Network
- Paul Orr, Executive Director, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
- Glenda Perryman, Executive Director, Immaculate Heart CDC
- Ann Smith, President, Gamaliel Foundation
- Bret Thiele, Coordinator, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
- Rev. Jim Vanderweele, Senior Pastor, Community Church Unitarian Universalist (New Orleans, LA)
- Monika Kalra Varma, Director, Center for Human Rights, RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights
- Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious
- Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq., National Chair, National Congress of Black Women, Inc.
- Adren O. Wilson, Executive Director, Equity and Inclusion Campaign
- Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Director of Outreach and Tikkun Olam, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
- John Zippert, Director of Program Operations, Federation of Southern Cooperatives