Today Reason magazine ran the exploration of its first “Myth of Hurricane Katrina,” an article refuting that there’s not enough money to deal with the disaster’s aftermath. There’s plenty of money, it explains. The problem is the systems in place for doling it out. To wit:
So it’s not a lack of funding that’s the problem. It’s spending the money. Under existing laws, FEMA can’t simply write checks to Katrina victims. Some recipients would undoubtedly squander their funds, and there would be widespread fraud. This isn’t idle speculation. According to the Government Accountability Office, immediately after Katrina hit, about a billion dollars of emergency aid—16 percent of the total—was lost to fraudulent claims. Even legitimately obtained pre-paid debit cards given to aid Katrina’s victims were used to buy champagne, guns, tattoos, and porn.
FEMA, or somebody—anybody—should indeed be able to simply (that’s the best way, isn’t it?) write checks to Katrina victims. I left New Orleans two days before the storm with a pair of flip-flops, a deck of cards, and an extra pair of underwear, and couldn’t go back until four months later. Like a million others, I desperately needed money for food and clothes and toiletries. Despite hours of sobbing and begging on the phone with FEMA and dozens of paperwork filings and faxes, I still somehow never managed to “legitimately obtain” my debit card. If I had gotten it, I very well may have spent a large portion of that $2,000 on champagne, tattoos, and porn (I’m not really into guns), and I would have had every right to do so. It’s none of the government’s business what indescribably distressed adults who’ve been suddenly and forcibly displaced with no job, no place to live, and no reliable information about the state of everything they own or their foreseeable future choose to do with the aid money given them. The government’s business is to make sure they get it.