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Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016

Common sense is needed with funds

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Here is the perfect example why most of us don't trust the federal government to wisely spend our hard-earned tax dollars.

You probably remember Hurricane Katrina that struck the Gulf Coast last year. In response to that major disaster, the federal government felt compelled to throw billions of dollars to the southern states in an attempt to restore life as soon as possible. For the most part, I think we all agreed that the role of the feds was exactly that - provide whatever resources available as quickly as possible to help those who were harmed by the record hurricane.

But now, of course, countless stories are surfacing about unscrupulous contractors who did shabby or incomplete work yet received their FEMA checks nonetheless. We've heard of food shipments that rotted because of lack of organization to get it into the hands of those in need. The stories are endless.

But now FEMA is being asked to investigate a $22.6 million program in Florida that was designed to provide "crisis counseling" to those harmed by the hurricane. Now Florida, you might recall, was not in the direct path of Katrina but apparently thousands of displaced residents fled there and remain there.

So armed with $22.6 million of your tax dollars, Florida established Project HOPE - Helping Our People in Emergencies. And they are still in operation today with 450 workers across the state trying to provide counseling services to those who still suffer some psychological harm from the hurricane.

Problems are abundant. For starters, FEMA can't provide the names of those displaced residents now living in Florida so some weeks, the Project HOPE teams find only one or two "survivors." And when they do, they don't provide food or clothing or housing. They provide puppet shows or Hurricane Bingo or yoga on the beach in an attempt to improve the lives of the relocated.

The job is so stressful for the Project HOPE team members that they themselves regularly attend stress management sessions that include collecting shells on the beach or silly string and art therapy.

One of the former counselors said the program is clearly "a waste of taxpayers' money. I mean, puppet shows? What is that doing? I felt guilty a lot of days going to work and earning a paycheck."

Now apparently someone in Congress agrees and the program has come under some scrutiny - as well it should.

The program officials acknowledge that because they are unable to actually locate many displaced residents, they provide their "stress management" programs to anyone who will attend.

Doesn't anyone get it? These people don't need stress management puppet shows. They need homes and jobs and financial assistance to rebuild their lives. And if the job is so stressful that the counselors must gather on the beach to collect seashells, then the counselors should quit and find some other occupation.

This is just a $22.6 million waste of money. The actual waste surely hits the billions. We need a change in Washington and we need it now. That doesn't mean we need to throw all of our elected officials out and replace them with new ones. It means we need to tell those we elect to spend our money wisely and with some level of common sense.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen