Follow the Money for the Real Story
By Molly Ivins
The Chicago Tribune
Thursday 15 September 2005
Austin, Texas - Here's a good idea: Consumer groups and progressive congress-folks have joined in an effort to stop hundreds of thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina from being further harmed by the new bankruptcy law, scheduled to take effect Oct. 17. This law was written of, by and for the consumer credit industry and is particularly onerous for the poor.
The bill was passed with massive support from the Republican leadership in Congress and from a disgusting number of sellout Democrats. While it was being considered in committee earlier this year, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) offered an amendment to protect victims of natural disasters. It was defeated, without debate, on a party-line vote.
Now, Congress has a chance to rethink some of the most punitive parts of the bill. Katrina victims who were planning to file before the new law goes into effect are out of luck - where are they gonna find a lawyer, let alone an open courthouse?
Under the new law, anyone whose income is above the state median must file under Chapter 13, a more restrictive category that requires some repayment of debt. The new law grants no exemption for natural disaster, even though it's going to be a little tough for some citizen sitting in the Houston Astrodome who no longer has a home to come up with tax statements, pay stubs and six months of income and expense data.
Meanwhile, it's an ill wind that blows no one good, so we should not be surprised to learn the first winner out of the gate on Katrina is Halliburton Co., whose deserving subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root already has been granted a $29.8 million contract for cleanup work in the wake of Katrina.
Now I am curious about the bureaucracy end of all this- I recall as a case worker the many papers, birth certificate, stubs, statements, etc. needed just for a few bucks in food stamps. How will they balance efficiency against potential for fraud? Now we can point fingers and say that NOBODY should be worried about fraud at a time like this. But this is going to be a long haul scenario. And people very quickly worry about fraud, and endless bureacratic hoops emerge, to divide the deserving from the 'undeserving'. Like the way they separate 'looters' from 'supply finders'...Its the American way.
We will see, as in Florida, the rise of a glistening new FEMA-land, full of trailers in rows. And our government, in typical fashion, will commence grilling of these victims as with others from hurricanes past. What are you doing to fix your life? Show us all the job ads you've answered.... fight for what you need, but nobody will fight to see that you get it. By then we'll be on to other things.