A growing number of communities across the country are having second thoughts about opening their doors to the evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. Cities are torn between compassion for those displaced with the realistic view that most of the evacuees are poor and in need of subsidized housing and long-term government assistance. It's a delicate balance between moral concern and limited resources.
Current reports from New Orleans indicate that as many as half of the displaced residents will not return to the city. That puts hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in search of new housing as well as the essentials to start a new life. But many communities are already struggling with the issue of subsidized housing, medical care and a host of other issues needed to provide for those displaced.
Most communities have long waiting lists for subsidized housing, for example. By accepting the residents of New Orleans, communities are putting more pressure on an already over-burdened situation. In short, we'll continue to feel the impact from Katrina for generations.
Few among us want to turn down anyone in need. Our basic spirit, I believe, is to lend a helping hand to those less fortunate. But the truth is that there is a limit to just how much any individual or community can or should do to help that dependent population. The debate revolves around just where that limit should be placed.
I am surprised that the federal government has not devised a national employment plan similar to the depression-era WPA program. A national work program could provide some much needed jobs to the dependent population, for starters. It could instill pride, responsibility and go a long way toward weaning that population off the government dole. And the projects undertaken would benefit all of society.
Hurricane Katrina did indeed uncover an ugly side of society. It exposed a population that has lived on taxpayer assistance for generations. But instead of attacking or defending that population, we should instead provide an alternative. That alternative is called work.
If the federal government is willing - albeit reluctantly - to spend $200 billion to rebuild after Katrina, why not put that same amount into a program that provides jobs to the population in question? Rest assured, there are ample opportunities to put people to work instead of mailing them a monthly check. But for some strange reason, we don't seem to discuss this solution.
Communities would be much more willing to accept these evacuees if they arrived with a job. One solution might well be for the federal government - using our tax dollars - to start providing an alternative to the continuation of a dependent lifestyle. It might just be the best dollar spent in a long time.