Disaster aid should have reasonable limits

No one ought to go through the devastation suffered by hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf states when Hurricane Katrina hit there in August 2005. Most Americans were happy to see their tax money go to help those who lost belongings, homes and businesses in the storm.

But there ought to be a limit, and – call us cynical if you like – it probably should be something less than eight years.

About $872 million in federal funding meant to help residents of Mississippi recover from Katrina has yet to be spent, the Associated Press reported. About one-fourth of the funding is earmarked not for recovery but for economic development. Some of it is to be spent many miles away from the hurricane destruction zone.

One $8 million project is a new parking garage near the Mississippi State University football stadium – more than 200 miles from the Gulf Coast.

Mississippi officials maintain economic development will create jobs for some Katrina victims. They and officials in other states hit by disasters add that it sometimes takes time to plan and implement such projects.

But eight years? One-fourth of the money to economic development? Some of it to make life easier for university football fans far from the disaster zone?

Come on. Clearly, federal officials and members of Congress need to take another look at how disaster relief money is handed out.

We have received our share of disaster aid here in the North Country – for example, after the 1998 ice storm and 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene – and we acknowledge that some of it was spent to not just replace what was lost but to, in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s words, “build back better.” There’s nothing wrong with that. When Keene lost its firehouse to Irene, it properly built one that’s up to modern standards, meets the fire department’s present and anticipated future needs, and is strong and spacious enough to serve as the community’s “last building standing” in case of a future disaster. Federal and state aid paid for that, which is appropriate.

But if, by 2019, Irene aid was still kicking around and being used to expand Syracuse University’s football stadium, that would be a problem.