Katrina Networking

I am using my networking and marketing skills to pass along vital information to organizations, volunteers and survivors of the 2005 hurricane season. Grants, networking, advocating, assistance resources, articles and more. Updated regularly to better assist you.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fair Housing Advocate

I am working on the Hurricane Relief Project of the National Fair Housing Alliance.
Hurricane affected homeowners needing assistance with mortgage and insurance matters can contact the following local fair housing centers:
Mississippi - contact the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center in Biloxi at 228-396-4008.
Louisiana: - contact the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100
Alabama - Center for Fair Housing in Mobile at 251-479-1532
If now residing in Houston - contact Greater Houston Fair Housing Center 713-641-3247 or the fair housing centers listed above.

Diane Cipollone
Special Project Attorney
Hurricane Relief Project
National Fair Housing Alliance
1212 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005202-898-1661

Thursday, September 28, 2006

State Farm Investigation

1/20 - From Gary - Letter from Rep Gene Taylor
1/20 From Gary
Insurance industry under more scrutiny
By ANITA LEEcalee@sunherald.com
U.S. District Court Judge L.T. Senter Jr.'s opinion that State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. failed to investigate a policyholder's claim has sparked another congressional inquiry into the insurance industry's response to Hurricane Katrina.
U.S. Reps. Gene Taylor and Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., have supplied ammunition for hearings planned by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Taylor's ultimate goals are an all-perils policy that would eliminate the need for separate coverage for wind and water damage, removal of the insurance industry's exemption from anti-trust laws and federal rather than state oversight of the industry.
Spokesmen for industry-sponsored organizations maintain insurers have paid what is owed under their policies and did not collect premiums to cover damage from Katrina's unprecedented surge.
Joseph Annotti, a spokesman for the lobbying group Property and Casualty Insurers of America, said the industry handled more than 90 percent of claims promptly and fairly.

1/19 From Janet
Katrina insurance suit settled only days before trial
Michael Kunzelman / Associated Press
State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. settled out of court Friday with a Mississippi policy holder whose lawsuit over Hurricane Katrina damage was scheduled to be tried next week in federal court. State Farm settled with Richard Tejedor of Long Beach only eight days after jurors awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages to a different policy holder-- a couple who sued the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurer for denying their claim after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm. Terms of the settlement in the Tejedor case will not be disclosed, said State Farm spokesman Fraser Engerman. "We are pleased that we were able to resolve this issue before it went to (trial)," Engerman said. Jack Denton, one of Tejedor's attorneys, confirmed that the case has been settled but declined further comment.
Tejedor was one of hundreds of homeowners on Mississippi's Gulf Coast who sued their insurers for refusing to cover billions of dollars in damage from Katrina's storm surge. Katrina destroyed his home, leaving nothing but a slab. A federal flood insurance policy paid him the maximum $200,000 for the home and $80,000 for its contents. Tejedor, however, said State Farm refused to pay for an additional $263,190 in damage to his home and its contents. State Farm and other insurers say their homeowner policies cover damage from wind but not from water, and that the policies exclude damage that could have been caused by a combination of both, even if hurricane-force winds preceded a storm's rising water.
State Farm invoked that policy language to deny a claim filed by Norman and Genevieve Broussard of Biloxi, whose lawsuit was tried last week in afederal court in Gulfport. U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. took part of that case out of jurors' hands, ruling that State Farm is liable for $223,292 in storm damage to theBroussards' home. Jurors awarded the Broussards an additional $2.5 millionin punitive damages.
The trial for Tejedor's lawsuit was scheduled to start Monday. State Farm attorneys had asked for the trial to be postponed, but Senter refused. State Farm attorneys argued in court papers that a "barrage of publicity" about last week's multimillion dollar verdict may have tainted the jury for Tejedor's case. Senter, however, said postponing the trial would needlessly disrupt the court's schedule. State Farm also is the defendant in the next four Katrina insurance cases set for trial in Gulfport. The first is scheduled to start March 12. http://www.wwltv.com/local/northshore/stories/wwl011907jbinsurance.57a7759a.html

1/18 From Gary
Lott's Katrina Lawsuit, Others Sent Into Mediation
GULFPORT, Miss. -- A federal judge Wednesday ordered into mediation dozens of lawsuits filed against insurance companies after Hurricane Katrina, even as expert witnesses told a jury that the storm's water, not its winds, reduced a Biloxi home to a slab.
Several of the cases sent to mediation by U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr., were involved in recent settlement talks between State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and policyholders' lawyers.
The case on trial this week was not part of the settlement talks.
The timing of Senter's order appeared to be a coincidence.
Lawsuits filed against State Farm on behalf of Sen. Trent Lott and Rep. Gene Taylor are among the cases that Senter ordered into mediation Wednesay. Katrina destroyed Lott's home in Pascagoula and Taylor's home in Bay St. Louis. Each sued State Farm for denying claims.

1/12 From Dane
Jury Rules State Farm Owes Punitive Damages of $2.5 Million in Denied Katrina Claim Case
GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) -- A jury awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages against State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. for a Mississippi couple for denying their Hurricane Katrina claim. The decision could benefit hundreds of other homeowners challenging insurers for refusing to cover billions of dollars in storm damage.
State Farm said it will likely appeal.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. had taken part of the case out of jurors' hands before they awarded punitive damages to State Farm policyholders Norman and Genevieve Broussard of Biloxi.
Senter ruled Thursday morning that State Farm is liable for $223,292 in damage caused by Hurricane Katrina to the Broussards' home. Senter left the punitive damages to the jury.
Senter's decision to make a directed verdict rather than let the jury decide the entire case appeared to surprise everyone in the courtroom. After he explained his ruling, Senter ordered a recess to give attorneys time "to get over the shock."
After the jury announced its award, the Broussards left the courthouse arm in arm.
"It's a great day for south Mississippi, " Norman Broussard said.
Some of Senter's earlier rulings in other Katrina cases have favored the insurance industry, but his decision Thursday calls into question the companies' refusal to cover billions of dollars in damage from Katrina's storm surge.
The judge's decision and the jury's award also are likely to impact recent settlement talks between State Farm, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and other plaintiffs' attorneys.
Earlier this week, people with direct knowledge of the settlement talks told The Associated Press that State Farm, Mississippi' s largest home insurer, is considering paying hundreds of millions of dollars to settle more than 600 lawsuits and resolve thousands of other disputed claims.
The Broussards' case wasn't directly part of those negotiations, but Hood said Thursday the verdicts only strengthen his position in the ongoing settlement talks.
"Hopefully they will come to their senses and realize that the American people are not going to stand for robber baron companies, like the insurance companies, running over people," the attorney general said.
However, Hood conceded that a company as large as State Farm isn't likely to "blink very much" in the face of a single jury award."I'm sure they're in shock, but that can't hurt them," said Hood, who declined to elaborate on the status of the settlement talks with State Farm.
Randy Maniloff, a Philadelphia- based lawyer who represents insurers and has closely followed the Katrina litigation, said Senter's ruling was a "huge verdict" for homeowners even if the jury hadn't awarded punitive damages.
"That settlement is looking awfully good for State Farm now," he added.
The Broussards sued State Farm for refusing to pay for any damage to their home, which Katrina reduced to a slab. The couple wanted State Farm to pay for the full insured value of their home plus $5 million in punitive damages. The Broussards claimed a tornado during the hurricane destroyed their home. State Farm blamed all the damage on Katrina's storm surge.
State Farm and other insurers say their homeowner policies cover damage from wind but not from water, and that the policies exclude damage that could have been caused by a combination of both, even if hurricane-force winds preceded a storm's rising water.
Senter, however, ruled that State Farm couldn't prove that Katrina's storm surge was responsible for all of the damage to the Broussards' home. The judge also said the testimony failed to establish how much damage was caused by wind and how much resulted from storm surge.
State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said after the jury's verdict that the company is likely to appeal the decision.
"We are surprised and disappointed by both the judge's ruling on the coverage issues and the amount awarded by the jury for punitive damages," he said in a written statement. "We believe the expert testimony supported a different result."
Jack Denton, one of the couple's attorneys, said they are "very pleased" with the jury's verdict but declined further comment."
Obviously we have other trials coming up and don't want to jeopardize those cases," he added.
Thursday's verdict follows another federal judge's ruling that favored policyholders in Louisiana. In November, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. sided with New Orleans homeowners who argued that the language excluding water damage from some insurance policies was ambiguous.
Duval allowed a lawsuit against The Allstate Corp., The St. Paul Travelers Companies Inc. and other insurers to proceed, but said the issue of "flood exclusion" could be appealed immediately by the companies.
In his closing argument Thursday, one of the Broussards' attorneys, William Walker, said State Farm had breached their contract "in a bad way" by denying their claim. State Farm "acted like a chiseler," he said, adding, "The pocketbook is what they listen to."
State Farm attorney John Banahan urged jurors to "use your head and your heart" in deciding on punitive damages and to reject an attempt by the Broussards' attorney to demonize the company as an "evil empire."Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute in New York, said before the jury announced its decision that a punitive damage award would be "distressing" for insurers."
It adds even more cost and more uncertainty to the other problems that already exist in the Mississippi homeowners insurance market," he said.
Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report..

State Farm may reopen claims
Scruggs also reported close to settling 640 lawsuits
Thousands of State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. policyholders on the Mississippi Coast could reopen their claims under a tentative settlement the company is working out with Attorney General Jim Hood and private attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who also is close to settlement on about 640 lawsuits his group filed on behalf of homeowners the company insures.
"I am working day and night attempting to get our Coastal residents a fair shake in the insurance litigation," Hood said in a written statement Monday evening, after the Sun Herald broke news of the settlement at http://www.sunherald.com/. "It would not help our negotiations to disclose any details at this time."
Terms are undisclosed in the tentative settlement of the Scruggs cases.
State Farm would reserve a minimum of $50 million to reconsider Katrina claims filed by thousands of other South Mississippi homeowners, said a source close to the negotiations. The company would notify the policyholders in writing that they can have their claims reconsidered.
Policyholders who decided to participate would go to binding arbitration with State Farm if they were unable to agree on settlement amounts.
State Farm would consider claims within the parameters of its homeowners' policy, which the company maintains does not cover damage from tidal surge. However, thousands of policyholders in areas subject to tidal surge are still trying to collect for what they believe was wind damage to their properties.
The source said a settlement hinges on Hood's signature. Weeks after Katrina, Hood filed a lawsuit against State Farm and other major insurers for refusing to fully cover Katrina property damage. Hood also launched a criminal investigation at least one year ago over how State Farm and other insurers handled Katrina claims.
The source said Hood would have to agree to drop both the civil and criminal proceedings for State Farm to accept the settlement. No charges have yet resulted from the criminal probe.
Not everyone is happy about the settlement negotiations. Biloxi attorney Judy Guice, who has her own lawsuit pending against State Farm, said after hearing the news:
"I think it's really important for the public to understand what they're trying to do here. To link together dismissal of a criminal investigation with insurance claims that should have been paid months and months ago is extremely troubling. It just shows more and more the need to investigate what State Farm did, who was involved and what the details are.
"I won't be a party to (a settlement). I will not be bought off by State Farm."
Two State Farm policyholders who also are represented by Scruggs, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, have said they believe the company denied or minimized claims by blaming water rather than wind. Taylor thinks insurers charged the National Flood Insurance Program for damage they should have covered.
However, State Farm says it has investigated each claim on its merits and paid what is owed under its policies. The company has paid $1.1 billion on 84,000 claims filed statewide.
The company also has relied on language in its policy that purports to say wind damage is not covered when water contributes. U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. has ruled that that language is ambiguous and can't be enforced.
Senter has urged attorneys on both sides to find just and timely ways to resolve more than 1,000 Katrina cases pending in his court against insurance companies.
A spokesman for State Farm, Phil Supple, said: "At this point, we have no settlement. We continue to talk and to search for ways to bring these events to a resolution consistent with Judge Senter's call earlier this fall. We continue to pursue a just, prompt and efficient resolution."
In addition to the Scruggs lawsuits, State Farm has more than 100 other lawsuits pending. Supple said State Farm would "absolutely" like to see the cases resolved.
He said, "We see it as in the best interest of policyholders, the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and State Farm."
Scruggs could not be reached to comment. The noted attorney previously worked with Attorney General Mike Moore on the historic, multibillion-dollar settlement with Big Tobacco in the 1990s.
11/23 Market Conduct Exam by State
Jackson-Insurance Commissioner George Dale announced today that the Mississippi Insurance Department (MID) is conducting a market conduct exam of State Farm Insurance Company regarding Hurricane Katrina insurance claims. This is just the first of several market conduct exams that MID will be executing on property insurance companies that wrote business on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. State Farm, having the largest market share of those companies, was selected for the first exam.
"We have been working on claims since Katrina made landfall. Through these efforts and our mediation programs we have been able to settle over 5000 mediation cases or property claims for Mississippians. However, there are still claims that have not been resolved. I have a statutory obligation to gather the truth on the conduct of any insurance company doing business in Mississippi. These exams will be looking at how Mississippians' claims were handled. We will be interviewing many individuals and reviewing thousands of claim files," said Dale.
He added that MID does not know how long the process will take, but once the State Farm and other examinations are completed, the department will be providing public reports in addition to taking whatever corrective actions are deemed necessary.
"We have to get to the bottom of this and we will, so Mississippi can move forward," Dale said.
The main purposes of a market conduct exam are to address consumer related issues, detect inappropriate practices and non-compliance with insurance laws, and to verify that insurers are fulfilling their contractual obligations. The MID has a history of conducting extensive exams, for example, it was just such an exam that unraveled the Martin Frankel case, which at the time, was one of the largest insurance scams in United States history. MID will be using some of the same examiners that broke the "Frankel" case to assist in the market conduct examinations. The State Insurance Commissioner has the authority to order market conduct exams. The Commissioner also is required to do financial examinations of all domestic insurance companies doing business in the state every three years.


Insurance trials delayed Judge may consider consolidating 1,000 lawsuits
GULFPORT - Six federal trials of insurance companies over Hurricane Katrina damage, set to start in early 2007, have been delayed.
U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. wrote in a recent court order, "What began as best-laid plans have gone awry."
However, the same order said Senter is willing to consider consolidating some of the 1,000-plus lawsuits clogging the U.S. District Court system.
The Scruggs Katrina Group filed lawsuits against Nationwide, State Farm and Allstate insurance companies. Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, a nationally prominent Mississippi attorney who heads the group, had hoped hundreds of policyholders could be represented in three trials.
The State Farm lawsuit covered 691 policyholders; 310 sued Allstate and 244 were listed in the Nationwide complaint.
However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker decided the policyholders would have to sue separately. Walker held a status conference with all sides in August to select two cases against each insurance company for expedited trials. The agreement was that the cases would involve simple issues rather than more time-consuming and complex claims.
Scruggs' group then had to amend its lawsuits to represent individual policyholders. The first case set for trial was Wesley McFarland v. State Farm, scheduled to begin Jan. 29. Five more cases were to follow.
When the State Farm pleading was amended with only McFarland as a plaintiff, Senter wrote, a new charge was added accusing State Farm of a companywide scheme to defraud and deceive policyholders. State Farm answered the complaint, denying the scheme.
State Farm also asked that the trial be delayed, based on the new charge. Senter agreed to the delay.
In his ruling, Senter said he does not want to limit the remedies available to policyholders. "At the same time," he wrote, "the court has no interest in watching or umpiring a pleadings game that is played for a particular moment's tactical purpose without regard to the overall goal of a just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action."
Senter also indicated in the ruling he is willing to consider consolidation of some cases, another reason to delay these trials.
Senter said he expects "real cooperation" between both sides to determine common issues of law that may allow cases to be tried in groups.

11/3 PR
State Farm recently presented a grant to HANDS (Helping Americans Needing Disaster Support). This organization was started my Leisha Pickering (wife of Congressman Chip Pickering of Central Miss._ Great organization. We'll probably continue our support with this organization not only with financial support but volunteer efforts as well.

Try Katrina cases on the Coast, court urged - Insurers say residents in South Miss. biased
GULFPORT - Fifty-two policyholders, along with current and former public officials, are urging U.S. District Court judges to try a Katrina insurance case on the Coast instead of in North Mississippi.
State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. says the company cannot get a fair trial on the Coast because of "biased" coverage in the Sun Herald, "negative" television reports and a "substantial bias" against insurance companies among registered voters surveyed in South Mississippi.
State Farm filed a motion saying a lawsuit filed by Ed Gemmill, a Biloxi city councilman, should be tried in Oxford. If the court agrees to move the trial, lawyers for policyholders fear other cases will be tried away from the Coast as well.
Biloxi attorney Jack Denton represents Gemmill, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Walker is allowing other attorneys with Katrina cases to weigh in on the issue.
The Gulfport law firm Owen & Galloway has filed sworn statements intended to show the court that insurers can receive fair trials here.
Mayors A.J. Holloway of Biloxi and Billy Skellie of Long Beach, District Attorney Cono Caranna, Hancock and Harrison County supervisors, Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd and The Peoples Bank president Chevis Swetman are among 46 Coast residents who have signed statements saying they have read articles about State Farm and other insurers in the Sun Herald and believe insurers can get fair trials in South Mississippi.
In addition, 52 of the law firm's clients say they would be burdened by trials held 332 miles away.
"To move these cases to Oxford would be like these poor people being hit by a hurricane again," said Ben Galloway, who added that policyholders such as the Coast's only thoracic surgeon could be stuck in North Mississippi trials, complicating life for many residents.
Owen and Galloway's motion also says Oxford lacks the facilities to support the trials, including public transportation, an airport with direct flights and hotel rooms, particularly during football season.
State Farm representatives declined to comment Thursday.
Federal court personnel have estimated that 1,100 insurance cases are pending. Harrison County Circuit Court has about 300 insurance cases, while Jackson County reports only a handful of lawsuits have been filed. Hancock County workers were unable to say how many insurance cases are pending there.
In these lawsuits, insurers and their policyholders disagree over how much is owed for Hurricane Katrina damage. U.S. District Judge L.T. Senter Jr. has already declared valid the "water" exclusions in insurance policies, meaning the companies are not responsible for covering Katrina's tidal surge.
But many policyholders who have filed suit believe insurers are minimizing or ignoring wind damage to avoid paying claims. The insurance companies say they are paying what is owed under their policies, pointing out that the federal flood insurance program is responsible for covering Katrina's unprecedented tidal surge.
Coverage of the debate has colored opinions of potential jurors in South Mississippi, according to an expert for State Farm who surveyed 3,600 registered voters statewide. In South Mississippi, the survey said, 55 percent of respondents said insurance companies have been unfair, while only 39 percent felt that way in North Mississippi.

From The Sun Herald
Grand juries looking at State Farm Feds, state investigating insurer's claim practices

GULFPORT - Federal and state grand juries are investigating the post-Katrina claims practices of State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., according to court documents the company filed.
State Farm included the information in a secret protective order filed in U.S. District Court in an attempt to stop the questioning of four employees by an attorney for policyholder Wesley McFarland of Bay St. Louis.
McFarland is suing State Farm for refusing to cover Hurricane Katrina's destruction of his Bay St. Louis home, which he maintains the wind caused.
McFarland's attorneys will be able to question the four employees because U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert H. Walker recently overruled State Farm's motion for a protective order, which the Sun Herald's attorney says the company illegally filed under seal. The public has no access to sealed documents, but the Sun Herald has obtained a copy of State Farm's motion from a confidential source.
The motion says the four employees are potential "subjects" or "targets" of the grand jury investigations and have hired attorneys as a result.
James Tucker, a longtime assistant U.S. attorney in Jackson who is now in private practice, is representing State Farm in connection with the investigations, the motion says.
"State Farm believes that, if these individuals are (questioned) before the criminal investigations are resolved, they may likely invoke their constitutional privilege against self-incrimination," the company's motion says.
State Farm also said the motion was filed under seal because media coverage might prejudice a jury pool in the McFarland case, set for trial in January.
Attorneys for McFarland, the Scruggs Katrina Group, will be allowed to question the State Farm employees: Dave Randel, section manager for State Farm catastrophe teams handling Mississippi Coast claims; Alexis "Lecky" King, an expert on the National Flood Insurance Program and coordinator of the catastrophe teams under Randel's supervision; King's assistant, Lisa Wachter; and Mark Drain, who McFarland's attorneys claim handled "high-profile" policyholders such as U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor.
An employee who answered the telephone at State Farm's catastrophe office in Biloxi said Randel is on leave. He could not be located for comment. King, Wachter and Drain are not working out of the Biloxi office, the employee said. Insurance companies generally scale back operations as claims dwindle.
State Farm maintains it treats all customers equally. Lott and Taylor also have filed lawsuits against the company.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has confirmed that his office is investigating the post-Katrina claims practices of insurance companies, particularly the possible use of fraudulent engineering reports to deny claims. U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton has refused to confirm or deny any federal investigation.
Two sisters who adjusted Katrina claims for State Farm, Cori and Kerri Rigsby, have said they witnessed fraud against policyholders. The women have turned over 17,000 pages of records to federal and state investigators.
The sisters are now working for the Scruggs group and have provided information the attorneys are using for their cases.
They maintain Randel ordered engineering reports to determine the cause of damage for all slab cases on the Coast, including McFarland's, expecting storm surge would be the culprit. However, initial reports found wind and water damage, the Rigsbys said. Wind damage is covered by insurance-company policies, but storm surge is excluded.
Randel and King then decided no more engineering reports should be ordered, McFarland's attorneys say. They say no report was completed for McFarland's property.
State Farm maintains the company has investigated policyholder claims and paid customers what was owed under their policies.
A north Mississippi attorney, Richard "Flip" Phillips, has documented that a State Farm adjuster ordered an engineering report on the waterfront property of Ocean Springs resident Judy Guice, but the report was subsequently cancelled.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lowes School Grants

Now Accepting Applications!
The grant deadlines are October 15, 2006 and February 15, 2007. We will only be accepting 1,500 applications per grant period. As of the week of September 18, 2006 we have not reached this limit and the application process remains OPEN. If you get your application in within the next 2 weeks you have a strong chance of meeting this deadline.

Lowe’s will donate $5 million to schools and school parent teacher groups - at more than 1,000 different schools in 2006 and 2007. Click here to see if you are eligible!

It’s almost that easy when you take advantage of Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant program. Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation (LCEF) knows how hard you work for your kids and your community and we’re dedicated to helping your parent-teacher group achieve even more for your school. Apply for our Toolbox for Education Grant now and build on your already impressive parent group success with Lowe’s.

The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program has already donated nearly 5 million dollars to nearly 1,000 Schools in all 50 States and the District of Columbia.

Increase parent involvement? Build stronger community spirit? Create a new school tradition? The ideas are endless. Whatever goals and dreams you have for your school, we can help you fulfill them!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Relief Money Too Slow

* The state has sent out 5,701 checks to Mississippi Gulf Coasthomeowners who suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina, programsupervisors said Thursday *

* As of last Thursday MDA checks = 3,162. Aproximately twelvethousand five hundred to go. 2,000 appeals already filed

Congressman says post-Katrina home grant program moving too slowly
Associated Press
PASCAGOULA, Miss. - U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor is criticizing the slow pace of Mississippi's $3 billion Homeowner Grant Program and urging that the process be sped up to help coast residents fighting to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
"I am more frustrated than most," Taylor, D-Miss., told The Mississippi Press newspaper. "The state's got to get going on this."
Taylor also was critical of state Sen. Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, and state Reps. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, and Jim Simpson Jr., R-Gulfport, who stand to profit from a contract that allows them to use their professional legal services to complete homeowners' grants.
"The state constitution spells out that you're a public servant and you're not going to enrich yourself off public dollars," Taylor said. "I encourage the state Ethics Commission to look at the constitution."
Mississippi's Homeowner Grant Program is part of $5 billion the federal government gave the state in January to help homeowners who were flooded during the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane. The program provides that qualified homeowners who lived outside the federally designated flood plain can receive grants of up to $150,000.
Out of 17,000 Coast homeowners who applied for grants, 75 checks have been written, Mississippi Development Authority spokesman Scott Hamilton said earlier this month.
Taylor said Congress had approved the funding before Christmas.
"Here we are, 10 months later, and people don't have their money," he said. "The whole idea was to do something quickly."
He said that since July, dozens of homeowners have contacted his office asking why they had not received any money from the state.
Several residents haven't heard anything from the state since they applied for the grants in April, he said, adding that the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, the federal agency that approved the $5 billion, is not holding up the process.
Taylor said he met with HUD representatives. "I asked them directly if they were responsible," he said. "They said no."
Taylor said his office sent a letter to Gov. Haley Barbour, who oversees the grant program, urging that the process be given more urgency. Barbour said last week that he also is frustrated by the pace of distributing the homeowners' grants.
Hamilton, who was leaving the MDA this week, said the state had expected the program to be completed in July. Hamilton blamed the sluggishness on problems dealing with hundreds of insurance companies and hundreds of mortgage companies.
"We hoped for a more automated system," Hamilton said earlier. "It's been much more manual."
But Taylor noted that fewer applicants applied for grants than the state had expected.
Taylor said he has real concerns about three state lawmakers profiting from the contract to complete grants. Under a contract awarded in competitive bid process, Robertson and Beckett close grants for homeowners who do not have mortgages or whose mortgage companies did not choose to participate in the Homeowner Grant Program.
Robertson and Beckett, who formed their company in March with the intention of bidding on the contract, receive $250 for every grant they complete in Harrison and Jackson counties. Between 2,000 and 5,000 homeowners are expected to close grants in those counties, which means the two lawmakers could make $1.2 million.
Robertson and Beckett also hired Simpson to complete grants for homeowners in the first judicial district of Harrison County. Robertson refused to disclose how much Simpson is being paid.
Because federal money is funding the Homeowner Grant Program, the three state lawmakers said it is legal for them to make money off it, and Barbour agreed.
Taylor, however, disagreed.
"I asked HUD, `Will these grant checks say The United States of America, or the state of Mississippi?'" Taylor said. "They said the checks say, state of Mississippi.
"I have trouble believing a state lawmaker can be doing this and not be violating Section 109 of the state Constitution," the congressman said. "In fairness, someone who is a judge needs to take a look at it and enforce the constitution."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Environmental Worries

2/17 NOAA Site for Marine Environmental Impact
2/17 - EPA Studies.
Annoying to navigate, but informative. Push them to do more testing!

Article with Commentary at end.
September 21, 2006
Experts at odds on Katrina effect
By Ana RadelatClarion-Ledger Washington Bureau

It didn't take long for a group of Hurricane Katrina rescue workers to seek medical help last year after their boat capsized in New Orleans, plunging them into the storm's fetid floodwaters.
"Disgusting does not even describe what that water was like," Darren White, a sheriff from New Mexico, said recently.
A local doctor prescribed Cipro, a strong antibiotic, for White and other members of the Bernalillo County sheriff's department.
"I don't know what you guys have been exposed to, but it's not good," White recalled the doctor saying.
A year after the storm, debate over Katrina's environmental and health impacts still rages.
The Environmental Protection Agency and state environmental agencies say it's safe for storm victims to return home.
"We don't see anything there that possesses a long-term health threat," said Sam Coleman, a senior EPA official in Dallas.
But environmentalists and some scientists say Katrina's unprecedented 25-foot surge spread dangerous sediment - especially arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen - from the Mississippi River and other bodies of water and caused chemical and oil spills that have poisoned the region.
Wilma Subra, a chemist with an environmental consulting firm in New Iberia, La., says state and federal health officials are dismissing symptoms - like skin rashes and antibiotic-resistant infections - that she says are caused by toxins like arsenic.
"They're in denial - overwhelmingly," Subra said. "Because it would cost too much money to address the problem."
Subra says Katrina may leave a legacy of miscarriages, birth defects and cancer that won't be revealed right away.
Both sides say they have science on their side.
The EPA and other government agencies have conducted hundreds of tests of the area's soil, water and air. With the exception of a few hot spots - the site of an oil spill in St. Bernard's Parish, La., and a Superfund site in New Orleans - they found no cause for concern.
"We believe there are no unacceptable long-term health risks directly attributable to hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Thomas Sinks, a deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote in a letter last month to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Subra also has tested dozens of soil samples. She came up with the same results as the government, but came to very different conclusions.
"The difference is in the interpretation," she said.
Subra says fertilizer-laced sludge tinged with industrial chemicals that the storm spread across hundreds of miles of coastline and throughout New Orleans is still dangerous. She worries the toxic sludge is turning into dust that local residents will inhale.
Environmentalists agree that the hurricane has left a toxic legacy.
"I don't think it's very credible or believable to say there's no environmental impact of Katrina," said Becky Gillette of the Mississippi chapter of the Sierra Club.
In a new report, the Sierra Club chides the EPA for taking spot samples instead of carrying out a more comprehensive study. The report also criticizes the agency for failing to test Katrina-flooded homes for toxins.
Coleman said the EPA lacks the authority to inspect private property. And he said he believes most homes can be made safe if they're gutted to remove mold and other possible dangers.
The debate likely will continue.
EPA officials note that the soil in New Orleans contained lead - thanks to old buildings covered with lead-based paint - even before the storm.
But Steven Presley, assistant professor of environment toxicology at Texas Tech University, also tested sediment, water and animals in the Gulf Coast area and found elevated levels of arsenic and lead.
He's ready to release findings that show about a dozen of the 40 schools he studied had elevated levels of lead. He says he can prove the lead definitely came from Katrina.
"I'm not saying the sky is falling, but let's just look at this closer," Presley said.

Commentary by Sidney Ray - Relief Spark - www.reliefspark.org

Post Spring Break, I had the opportunity to have a long discussion with a representative at FEMA. This lady also sits on the Board of Directors for The Red Cross.

Our discussion revolved around safety precautions for volunteers. In our hour long conversation she told me that FEMA has conducted their own testing and many homes in New Orleans have toxic black mold, arsenic, high levels of lead and asbestos. She said that due the age of many homes in the area, they are not safe to enter.

She went on to tell me that FEMA doesn’t want volunteers out here helping – because they are concerned that in less than 5 years and as long as 10-15 years that many volunteers will come down with a long-term illness or disease that yet to be identified.

Please understand that our phone conversation was supportive of the volunteer work – but she said to me that “many non-profits don’t provide safety gear to their volunteers nor are the volunteers wearing the safety gear that is provided to them.” “It is our biggest concern.”

It is mandatory that ALL Relief Spark volunteers gutting houses wear ALL the safety gear that is provided to them or else they won’t be allowed to gut houses with Relief Spark.

The health of each volunteer should be the non-profits biggest concern. It is a liability for non-profits to not encourage volunteers to wear such safety gear. If a volunteer falls ill – they will be hunting down the non-profit they volunteered with……first.

I speak from experience: volunteers should wear air respirator masks at ALL times except when taking a break – ACROSS THE STREET from the house gutting job. Once volunteers begin gutting, mold spores and asbestos are in the air. If a Volunteer is not wearing an air respirator (not a N95 – those don’t do the job), the volunteer runs the risk of a lung infection and perhaps even cancer later in life.

Back in January I assessed many houses before we began gutting. I walked through houses and didn’t wear my air respirator. I am now paying the price.

My nose bleeds or has dried blood every morning. A FEMA medical doctor diagnosed me with a mold allergy. Never before had I experienced any allergy symptoms!

Last spring I was in the hospital two different times for health issues having to do with my ovaries and kidney. I believe a combination of stress and environment played their part.

I don’t want to be in late 30’s with or without children and too sick to get out of bed.

Non-Profits: offer safety gear to your volunteers and make them wear it – make it your policy

Volunteers: bring your own safety gear or wear the safety gear that is provided to you

Here is a list of what is required by Relief Spark for each volunteer (retail value: $100.00):
-steel toe boots
-nitrile gloves under working suede gloves
-(1) Tyvek suit per day of gutting
-protective eyewear (i.e. goggles)
-MSA air respirator
-ear plugs
-hard hat

*Everything but the Steel Toe Boots can be purchased at Home Depot. The boots are available at Wal-Mart.

Sidney Ray
NOLA Operations Director


Log onto: www.reliefspark.org/projects.html for more information!
www.reliefspark.orgwww.myspace.com/reliefspark - view updated images!

sray@reliefspark.org – email
310.270.3332 – office
504.617.6329 - fax

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Youth Grants

Found on www.ysa.org/awards

State Farm Good Neighbor Service-Learning Grant

State Farm® and Youth Service America (YSA) know that students, teachers and schools can use service-learning as a tool to help youth build stronger academic skills, foster civic responsibility and develop leadership abilities. Service-learning is a teaching method that combines meaningful service and curriculum or program-based learning. Join millions of young people across the globe who are impacting their communities through service-learning.
Youth Service America and the State Farm Companies Foundation are offering the State Farm Good Neighbor Service-Learning Grant for youth across the United States (must be residing in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia). These grants of up to $1,000 support youth (ages 5-25), teachers, or school-based service-learning coordinators in implementing service-learning projects for National and Global Youth Service Day, April 20-22, 2007. Projects can address any number of themes including the environment, disaster relief, health, teen issues, education, interfaith dialogue, intergenerational relationships, homelessness, and literacy, amongst others.
To learn more, download application and grant guidelines below. Still have questions? Email GoodNeighbor@ysa.org.Postmark deadline: Monday, October 16.

The 2007 Harris Wofford Awards

Youth Service America is pleased to administer the prestigious 2007 Harris Wofford Awards, sponsored by State Farm Companies Foundation ®. Established in 2002, the Harris Wofford Awards were created to honor former Senator Harris Wofford - one of our nation's greatest public servants. The Awards recognize extraordinary achievements in three categories: Youth (ages 12-25), Organization (nonprofit, corporate, foundation), and Media (organization or individual) for actively contributing towards, "making service and service-learning the common expectation and common experience of every young person.”
A selection committee comprised of distinguished leaders in the service field is convened by Youth Service America to review nominations. Award Finalists will be honored and presented with an award of recognition at the 18th Annual National Service-Learning Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The recipient in the Youth category will receive a $500 award for him/herself and a $500 award for the non-profit organization of his/her choice. Travel arrangements, including airfare and accommodation, will be provided for each award recipient.
One award winner will be chosen in each of the following three categories. Self-nominations are permitted.
YOUTH The Youth Award will be given to one youth (ages 12 -25) who is a legal resident of the U.S. who demonstrates exemplary commitment and action to involve his or her peers in service, youth voice, service-learning or civic engagement activities. Youth nominees should be active in volunteering themselves, but even more so in helping to mobilize and inspire other youth. The nominee’s activities can be focused on the local, state, or national level. The recipient will receive a $500 award for him/herself and $500 to give to a non-profit of his or her choice to support program activities.
ORGANIZATION The Organization Award will be given to a local, state, or national nonprofit organization, foundation or corporation with a demonstrated record of activity and impact devoted to youth service, youth voice, service-learning, or civic engagement. Activities should clearly reflect efforts to increase the scale, effectiveness, and sustainability of the youth service and service-learning field..
MEDIA The Media Award, chosen by a selection panel, will be given to a media institution or individual member of the media who makes a commitment to the importance of reporting accurately and comprehensively on youth and youth service issues (such as service, youth voice, service-learning, or civic engagement). Eligible media sources include newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or online news..

Katrina Housing Corporation

A group called the Katrina Housing Corporation will use seed money from area businesses to start building homes and apartments across the coast that people can afford. And whenever it's necessary, it will provide loans and grants to people who just don't have enough money to cover the full cost of a mortgage.
Valerie Kennard could qualify for that assistance. Kennard works at the Port of Gulfport. She monitors who enters and leaves the port during her security shift. Before Katrina, Kennard had an apartment. Now, she's in a FEMA trailer. And her prospects of getting out of it look pretty grim.
That's why, when she was asked to define affordable housing, Kennard shrugged her shoulders and said, "Anything without a FEMA trailer. I would like to at least have a bedroom, a kitchen or a living room."
Kennard would like to move out of her temporary home. But in this post hurricane world, she said a decent apartment was either too hard to find, or way too expensive to rent.
"No, lordy they done priced them apartments and stuff up three times. It was $400 when I was there. Now it's $750. So I can't afford that," she admitted.
That's where Gerald Blessey enters the picture.
"There are plenty of great plans out there," the former Biloxi mayor said. "Now it's time to take the bull by the horns and take some action."
Blessey is a member of the new Gulf Coast Business Council. His group has decided to form a non-profit corporation focused on Katrina housing issues. Its sole mission will be to find ways to lend a hand to people in the workforce who need help finding and paying for a decent place to live.
"The meat of this proposal really is the business council will become the catalyst for creating a corporation that will actually go out and raise the capital and start building projects," he said.
Blessey calls the affordable living issue the business community's greatest concern, because without places for people to live, hurricane victims won't come home, and jobs will remain vacant.
You don't have to tell that to Valerie Kennard.
"I'm thinking about going home because there's no where around here you can stay that you can afford. And the little help the government gave me was good, but it didn't last," she said. "I really thank FEMA for the trailer. But the trailers aren't livable."
The Gulf Coast Business Council wants to hire its Katrina Housing Corporation staff by November 30th. The staff will be responsible for raising seed money, so the building process can begin.
by Brad Kessie

Volunteer Summit Sept 29-30

From the Clarion Ledger:

For registration information, call Tshombe Laughman at (202) 376-2168.

Volunteers and staff of grassroots community organizations in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are invited to attend a free,1 1/2-day training and networking event sponsored by NeighborWorks America on Sept. 29-30 in New Orleans.

Attendees will learn about the resources that NeighborWorks America, a national, publicly funded community development organization, can provide them to help in their work.
They can also share tools and tips with their colleagues from around the Gulf Coast.

To register for this free event, interested parties must be a volunteer or staff member with a grassroots organization working to rebuild their community in New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. Space is limited to 50 participants and registrations will be honored in the order they are received.

There is a maximum of three participants per organization.

Travel and hotel costs for those coming from outside of New Orleans will be paid by NeighborWorks America.

For registration information, call Tshombe Laughman at (202) 376-2168.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Katrina Tax Relief

What are the filing and payment deadlines for Hurricane Katrina victims?
There are two key dates –– Aug. 28, 2006, and Oct. 16, 2006.
To which returns does the Oct. 16 deadline apply?
Specifically, the IRS granted affected taxpayers in the counties listed below until Oct. 16, 2006, to file the following individual income tax returns:
2004 individual income tax returns, originally due on April 15, 2005, for which taxpayers obtained an extension of time to file until Oct. 15, 2005, and for which the previous grant of disaster relief postponed the due date to Aug. 28, 2006. Payments accompanying 2004 individual returns were due on Oct. 15, 2005. Relief from interest and failure to pay penalties is limited to one year, from Aug. 29, 2005, through Aug. 28, 2006. Thus, if payments are not made by Aug. 28, 2006, interest and failure to pay penalties may apply.
2005 individual income tax returns, originally due on April 15, 2006, for which the previous grant of disaster relief postponed the due date to Aug. 28, 2006. Interest and penalties will not apply to 2005 returns during this extension period.
Only the two individual income tax returns outlined above fall under the Oct. 16, 2006, deadline. (Affected taxpayers who need to file other types of returns, make other types of payments, or perform other time-sensitive acts should see information on the August deadline in the next FAQ.)
To claim this relief, affected taxpayers in the following counties and parishes should identify themselves by writing “Hurricane Katrina” in red at the top of their returns when filing or by calling the IRS Disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227.
Affected taxpayers in the following counties may qualify for this relief:
Alabama counties: Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Mobile, Pickens, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Washington.
Louisiana parishes: Acadia, Ascension, Assumption, Calcasieu, Cameron, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberia, Iberville, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Lafayette, Lafourche, Livingston, Orleans, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. Helena, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Mary, St. Martin, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, Vermilion, Washington, West Baton Rouge and West Feliciana.
Mississippi counties: Adams, Amite, Attala, Claiborne, Choctaw, Clarke, Copiah, Covington, Franklin, Forrest, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Hinds, Holmes, Humphreys, Jackson, Jasper, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Jones, Kemper, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Leake, Lincoln, Lowndes, Madison, Marion, Neshoba, Newton, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Pearl River, Perry, Pike, Rankin, Scott, Simpson, Smith, Stone, Walthall, Warren, Wayne, Wilkinson, Winston and Yazoo.
What about the Aug. 28 deadline?
With the exception of the two individual income tax returns identified above, individual and business taxpayers in the parishes and counties of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have through Aug. 28, 2006, to file returns, make certain tax payments, and perform other time-sensitive acts that had a due date or extended due date on or after Aug. 29, 2005, and on or before Aug. 28, 2006. In addition, the failure to deposit penalty will be waived for taxpayers in these areas who are unable to make their deposits during this time period.
The postponement applies automatically to taxpayers in the following Louisiana parishes: Cameron, Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles and St. Tammany.
The postponement also applies automatically to taxpayers in the following Mississippi counties: Hancock, Harrison and Jackson.
Affected taxpayers in the Alabama counties, and the other counties and parishes in Louisiana and Mississippi listed above also qualify for the postponement. However, those taxpayers must identify themselves as impacted. They can do this by writing “Hurricane Katrina” in red ink at the top of the return when filing, or by calling the IRS Disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227.
Do I have more time to make my quarterly estimated tax payments?
Yes. Affected taxpayers in the areas listed above have until Aug. 28, 2006, to make these payments.
Do businesses have more time to make payroll tax deposits?
Yes. Affected businesses in the areas listed above have until Aug. 28, 2006, to make federal tax deposit (FTD) payments without incurring a late deposit penalty. This relief applies to any deposit originally due on or after Aug. 29, 2005.
This relief applies to employers who deposit social security, Medicare and federal income taxes withheld from employee paychecks. Businesses who deposit federal excise taxes are also eligible for this relief.
This relief is intended for taxpayers who are unable to meet their deposit obligations because their (or their service provider's) records, computers, or other essential supporting services were damaged, or essential personnel were injured, by the hurricane or any subsequent flooding. Thus, although the waiver applies to all affected taxpayers, taxpayers that are reasonably able to make their deposits are encouraged to do so.
Where can I learn more about what other "time-sensitive" actions receive relief?
The IRS is giving victims of Hurricane Katrina until Aug. 28, 2006 to perform other time-sensitive actions described in Treasury Regulation § 301.7508A-1(c)(1) (PDF 160KB, 10 pages) Revenue Procedure 2005-27 (PDF 492KB, 38 pages).
Where can I find general information about tax-related assistance for hurricane victims?
The IRS has issued a new publication to assist individual and business victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. It explains the tax law changes and relief provisions available to those affected by the hurricanes. The publication lists the disaster areas for each hurricane and explains which areas are eligible for administrative relief from the IRS and which areas receive special tax breaks under recently enacted provisions of the tax law. It provides information for individuals on claiming unreimbursed losses, the tax favored use of retirement savings, and new rules regarding charitable giving. The publication also highlights the changes businesses need to know about, such as a special depreciation allowance for qualified Gulf Opportunity Zone property, an increase in the amount affected businesses can expense instead of depreciating and new net operating loss (NOL) rules for losses in the GO Zone.
For more information, go to Publication 4492, Information for Taxpayers Affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma (PDF 106.5K).
Where can I get information related to Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 and the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005?
The Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005, in general, expands the provisions of the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005 to those affected by Hurricanes Rita and Wilma as well as Katrina. These two new laws provide certain tax breaks to help victims of the storms. The new laws alter the tax code to help individuals who suffered losses as a result of the hurricanes and to make it easier for individuals and companies to engage in charity to benefit those affected by the hurricanes.
More information is available at Fact Sheet 2006-12, Tax Law Changes Related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and the KETRA page.
Can I contact the IRS for tax-related disaster assistance?
Victims of Hurricane Katrina can call the IRS toll-free disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227 for assistance.
Are tax relief assistance payments taxable?
Usually, no.
People in a Presidentially-declared disaster area who receive grants from state programs, charitable organizations or employers to cover medical, transportation or temporary housing expenses do not include these grants in their income.
What if I have difficulty getting a copy of my W-2?
Some taxpayers affected by the hurricanes may have difficulty obtaining 2005 Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, and other 2005 information documents. For more information, see Fact Sheet 2006-8, Substitute Forms W-2 for Hurricane Victims.
How do I reconstruct records that I lost?
Reconstructing records after a disaster may be essential for tax purposes, getting federal assistance or insurance reimbursement. Records that you need to prove your loss may have been damaged or destroyed in a casualty. More information is available in Fact Sheet 2006-7, Reconstructing Your Records.
My home was damaged by the hurricane, and I don’t have insurance. Do I qualify for any special tax relief?
Yes. You may be able to deduct your loss on your federal income tax return without the limits that ordinarily apply to such losses. Ordinarily, to figure a deduction for a casualty or theft loss of personal-use property, taxpayers must reduce the loss by $100 and also reduce the total of their casualty and theft losses by 10 percent of their adjusted gross income. Only the excess over these $100 and 10 percent limits is deductible. Recent changes to the tax law remove these limits for Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Wilma losses of personal-use property so that the entire amount is deductible. Only losses not covered by insurance or other reimbursements are eligible. See Publication 4492, Information for Taxpayers Affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
Tax Topic 515 has more information about losses and theft.
Losses on business or rental property also qualify for tax relief. Different rules apply to figuring this deduction.
I heard that I can choose when to claim losses to property located in a disaster area. Is that true?
Yes. There is a special rule that applies to deductible losses on property located in a Presidentially-declared disaster area. Under this rule, you can choose to claim your losses on your 2004 return or claim them on your 2005 return. Taxpayers with hurricane-related losses have until October 16, 2006, to make this choice. See Notice 2006-17 for more information.
I want to claim my disaster losses on my 2004 return. Since I already filed my 2004 return, how do I do that?
You do not have to fill out your entire 2004 return all over again. Instead, file an amended return using Form 1040X. You use this form to claim your losses and show the items that need to be changed on your original return. Tax Topic 308 explains how to file an amended return.
What other kind of relief is available?
The IRS will waive the usual fees and expedite requests for copies of previously-filed tax returns for people who need them to apply for benefits or to file amended returns claiming disaster-related losses. Write the words “Hurricane Katrina” in red at the top of Form 4506, “Request for Copy of Tax Return,” or Form 4506-T, “Request for Transcript of Tax Return.”
People who are contacted by the IRS on a collection or examination matter should explain how the disaster affects them so that the IRS can provide appropriate consideration to their case.
Where can I get more information about the losses I've suffered?
Publication 2194, Disaster Losses Kit for Individuals ( PDF 860KB, 100 pages). Attention: Publication 2194 is being updated with new provisions of the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005. For information on these provisions, see News Release 2005-119, New Law Eases Loss Limitations for Katrina Victims
Publication 2194B, Disaster Losses Kit for Businesses ( PDF 943KB, 78 pages) — Contain various IRS publications and forms related to claiming disaster losses.
What if I've changed addresses or have an undelivered refund?
You should contact the IRS if you're a hurricane victim awaiting a tax refund that hasn't been received or to report a change of address.
A taxpayer expecting a refund check at an address where he or she no longer resides or who has not received an expected check because of mail delivery problems should contact the IRS disaster hotline at 1-866-562-5227 or the refund hotline at 1-800-829-1954.
In order to authenticate taxpayer identity, the IRS will ask callers to provide information from their last federal tax return, including name, address, taxpayer identification number and filing status. Taxpayers will also need to provide a current address where they can receive mail and a current telephone number.
How can I protect myself from falling victim to possible hurricane-related scams?
IRS cautions hurricane victims and people wishing to make donations to disaster-relief charities to avoid unscrupulous scam artists. While the IRS does not endorse any specific charity, you can use the IRS.gov search feature to find qualified charities for tax deduction purposes. Some organizations, such as churches and governments, may be qualified even though they are not listed. Since scam artists may falsely use legitimate charity names and or cloned Web sites, always be extremely cautious in giving out personal and financial information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers. Scam artists can use this information to steal your identity or gain access to your financial assets
The IRS has also established a toll-free, disaster assistance phone number, 1-866-562-5227, specifically for hurricane victims. If you are solicited by anyone, even someone claiming to be from the IRS, with promises of tax relief, tax refunds or disaster assistance, call the IRS’s disaster assistance number to verify the legitimacy of the solicitation before giving any personal or financial information to the solicitor. The IRS does not ask for personal identifying or financial information via e-mail or in unsolicited mail or telephone calls.
Related Items:
Help for Hurricane Victims
Fact Sheet 2006-06, IRS Offers Filing Season Assistance to Hurricane Victims
More FAQs for Hurricane Victims

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Good Blogs

Anderson Cooper of CNN
Artisan Relief
Bay St. Louis
Bay St Louis Artist
"Beyond Katrina" PBS Series
This particular post is about Pearlington in Hancock County. The rest are just about the recovery in general. Very good! Thank you Val!
Carnival of Hurricane Relief - WOW
3/8 Andy Chapman's Personal Blog - with Lagniappe Church in BSL
Clayton Cubitt's - About his hometown, Pearlington.
Coastal Community Watch - Hancock County Watchdog Group
Dangle's Blog - A Great Guy From NOLA Who Cares Enough To Piss You Off
Gulf Coast Artists -
Please send artists to this site and have them sign up to be included. As it grows, it will be indexed to help focus types of artists so people can be more selective. Lori is trying to show a sample of each artist's work along with all contact information possible...
Hancock County Agency Information
3/9 Hancock County Events Calendar
Hands On Gulf Coast
Hands On Network
Katrina Advocating
Lagniappe Presbyterian's Intern Blog
3/8 Marketing from a MS Resident
MS Forestry - general information on forestry and recovery news. Good links
A NOLA Blog - VERY good.
Princess Sparkling Pony's take on Laura Bush Visiting Ocean Springs (2/22)
Police Fire Ambulance Information
3/14 Salem OR Katrina Relief Blog
Sheds of Hope
Since Katrina...
The author challenges you to submit your sentance that starts with "Since Katrina..."
Serving Waveland - Started by Coastal Community Watch. Dated, but still relevant
Solving Poverty

There are others, but I follow mostly through links on all of these. Follow their links. The world through their eyes is amazing.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

September 10 Suicide Prevention Day

The alternative number for those in crisis is 1-800-273-TALK. This number will put callers in touch with the federally funded National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service that has been in operation since January, 2005

World Suicide Prevention Day (From Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Review)

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide was the 11th overall leading cause of death in the United States in 2003 (the most recent year for which final death data are available) and was responsible for 31,484 deaths (1), which equates to one suicide every 17 minutes. In addition, suicide attempts and other acts of self-harm that result in nonfatal injuries affect the health of many persons and families.
In 2004 (the most recent year for which final ambulatory hospital data are available), approximately 535,000 visits to U.S. emergency departments were made after attempted suicides or because of other self-inflicted injuries (2).
Reducing the overall suicide rate of the population and the number of suicide attempts among adolescents are two of the 2010 national health objectives (objectives 18-1 and 18-2, respectively) (3). Integrated prevention strategies that address multiple relevant topics (e.g., substance-abuse prevention, family and peer support, and access to health services) are likely to be more effective in reducing suicidal behavior than programs that focus on a single factor (4).

Additional information about suicide prevention is available from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at http://www.cdc.gov/injury. Additional information about World Suicide Prevention Day is available at http://www.med.uio.no/iasp.

Please visit Operation Eden's blog for more information:

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Gulf Coast News Nominated For Award

GulfCoastNews.com Named Finalist in 2006 Online Journalism Awards
By Keith Burton - GCN Filed 8/29/06
GulfCoastNews.com has been selected as a finalist for an award for from the Online News Association (ONA), the nation's premiere organization dedicated to online journalism. GCN was selected as a finalist in the Service Category, small markets, for the website's service efforts, which includes the Katrina Survivor-Connector Database and news.
GCN was the first online media to provide a way for people to find relatives and friends displaced after Hurricane Katrina. The GCN database was online the day after the hurricane when the GCN message board was overwhelmed by people looking for relatives that had evacuated the Coast or were in shelters. In the weeks following the hurricane, millions of visitors accessed the database and tens of thousands of people registered names and contact information on the service. Later, other organizations provided similar databases, but GCN was acknowledged as the easiest to use and most comprehensive.
The GCN Survivor-Connector Database received worldwide news coverage after the hurricane and was a featured link on hundreds of websites across the nation. The Red Cross also used the database and eventually was provided a copy. Twelve months after Katrina, the GCN Survivor-Connector Database is still being used.
GulfCoastNews.com provides a comprehensive look at news and information regarding the Mississippi Coast and provides links to important governmental services and agencies in an easy-to-navigate form. GCN also provides original reporting on a wide variety of subjects with a view toward making complex subjects easy to understand.
The Online Journalism Awards will be awarded at the OJA Awards Banquet during the upcoming 7th annual national conference Oct. 6-7 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC. The awards are sponsored by the Online News Association and USC Annenberg School of Communication. A team of distinguished journalists judged the contest, which honors excellence in digital journalism, during a two-day event on the USC campus on August 24-25.
"I’ve been involved with the OJAs since 2001, for four years as awards chair and this year as a judge, and each year I’ve seen impressive quality and innovation from the finalist sites. This year is no exception,” said Michael Silberman, President of the Online News Association. “Journalism is thriving online at sites large and small, on blogs, with audio, video, animation and of course text, and in conversations between editors and readers.”
"What the Pulitzers have done in setting high standards for newspapers," said Michael Parks, director of the Annenberg School of Journalism. "we hope the Online News Association awards will do in new media. Each year, we have seen tremendous growth and improvement in online journalism."
The finalists and the winners were selected through a two-step process. First, a group of about 100 journalists screened entries in each category and narrowed them to a set of five to ten nominees. The OJA judges, a group of nine journalists with extensive experience in new and old media, met at USC to pick the finalists and the winners, then reviewed these nominees.
The Sun Herald has also been nominated, in two categories for awards. The Sun Herald is a finalist in breaking news for small markets and for the Knight Foundation Award for Public Service, all markets.
Readers of the Sun Herald will note that GulfCoastNews.com was not mentioned as a nominee in their story regarding the nominations.

Support GCN

Army Corps Moving Out

Katrina:U.S. Army Corps of Engineers One Year LaterCorps to End FEMA-Requested Operations in Mississippi
From: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Filed 8/25/06 GCN

VICKSBURG, Miss. (August 25, 2006) – Hurricane Katrina was one of the largest natural disasters in the history of our country with more than 1,300 lives lost and more than $150 billion in damages. Having maintained Category 5 strength until less than 12 hours before landfall, Hurricane Katrina surge measured from 28 to 30 feet along the Mississippi coast, her winds registered 127 mph at Louisiana landfall and 75 percent of New Orleans was flooded.
“We had been tracking Katrina all along,” recalled Brigadier General Robert Crear, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “When it seemed imminent that Katrina would make landfall along the Gulf Coast, I activated our emergency operations centers in all six districts.”
The Mississippi Valley Division is responsible for Corps of Engineers water resources programs in a 370,000-square-mile area in portions of 12 states from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Its subordinate districts are headquartered in St. Paul, Minn.; Rock Island, Ill.; St. Louis, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Vicksburg, Miss.; and New Orleans, La.
For the past 12 months, the Mississippi Valley Division, in conjunction with other federal, state and local partners, have continued an unprecedented, multi-faceted effort to assist in the recovery and rebuilding of the areas affected by this devastating hurricane.
Engaging more than 3,800 personnel at its peak, this is the largest disaster recovery operations in the history of the Corps of Engineers. Cumulatively, more than 8,000 Corps employees have provided assistance. As a comparison, during the Florida hurricanes in October 2004, approximately 1,500 Corps employees supported the hurricane recovery efforts; while in February 2005, 127 Corps employees were involved.
The Corps conducts its emergency response activities under two basic authorities: the Flood Control and Coastal Emergency Act (Public Law 84-99, as amended) and the Stafford Disaster and Emergency Assistance Act (Public Law 93-288, as amended). Under the Stafford Act, the Corps supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency in carrying out the National Response Plan, which calls on 26 Federal departments and agencies to provide coordinated disaster relief and recovery operations.
The Mississippi Valley Division has a vital role in support of the National Response Plan. The plan describes the basic structure by which the federal government will mobilize resources and conduct response and recovery activities to assist states and local governments in coping with the consequences of significant natural or man-made disasters, to include terrorist events.
Within this plan, the Department of Defense has designated the Corps as the primary agency for planning, preparedness and response under Emergency Support Function #3, Public Works and Engineering. The type of assistance provided by the Corps includes restoration of critical public services and facilities, including supply of adequate amounts of potable water and ice, temporary restoration of water supply systems, provision of temporary emergency electrical power, temporary emergency housing, structural evaluation of buildings and damage assessment, and clearance, removal, and disposal of debris.
Following Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Valley Division, with support from sister divisions throughout the Corps was able to stand up a large response force in a matter of days. Just hours before Katrina arrived, the division’s emergency response team was tasking specialized response teams of all types from around the world to support the traditional USACE (http://www.usace.army.mil) missions tasked by FEMA (http://www.fema.gov) during disaster response.

Prior to Katrina’s landfall, command posts were set up at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. Once FEMA declared the disaster, recovery field offices were immediately established at both sites. Colonel Charles Smithers, Commander of the Corps’ Memphis District, headed up the Louisiana RFO, and Colonel Tony Vesay, Commander of the Corps’ Vicksburg District, was tasked to lead the Mississippi RFO.

Shortly thereafter, on September 1, General Crear established his Mississippi Valley Division-Forward (http://www.mvd.usace.army.mil) command post aboard the Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI in Baton Rouge. Within the first two weeks, more than 1,500 Corps personnel had deployed to the Louisiana and Mississippi offices. The MISSISSIPPI serves as an inspection and workboat for the Mississippi River Commission, with 90 percent of its time spent as a working towboat for the Memphis District. Its main role is moving barges, equipment and supplies on the Mississippi River in support of the Corps’ mat sinking operations.

Recap of Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts:
Water & Ice Missions - complete
The Corps orders ice and water for transport to disaster victims under the direction of FEMA, and awards advance contracts with commodities suppliers and then activates those contracts when a disaster is anticipated or has occurred. Following Hurricane Katrina, ice and water were delivered by the contractors to specified staging areas for further distribution, at the appropriate time, to points closer to disaster victims. Final distribution to individual victims was accomplished through local governments. Approximately 170 million pounds of ice and more than 5,500 truckloads of bottled water were delivered to the affected areas. One ice truck equals 40,000 lbs. of ice and serves 5,000 people for one day. One water truck equals18,000 liters, and at 3 liters per person serves 6,000 people per day.
Temporary Emergency Power Mission - complete
As Corps responders battled to help the affected areas recover, one critical mission hummed along without much fanfare, but with an electrifying effect. The power mission brought life to critical services fol­lowing Katrina. Immediately following the storm, more than 1.3 million homes and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were without electricity, according to utility companies. Combined, the Louisiana and Mississippi RFOs conducted 1,337 emergency power assessments across the two states and then installed 318 FEMA generators. The offices have now “uninstalled” and returned those generators to storage for the next hurricane season.
Unwatering Mission - complete
The Corps began unwatering the city of New Orleans on September 6, 2005. Lasting 53 days, the unwatering mission was completed on October 28. More than 767,000 acre feet - or 250 billion gallons of water - was removed from the greater New Orleans area. This equates to water 17 feet deep over an area the size of Washington, D.C. The water was pumped into three locations: Lake Borne, the Gulf of Mexico, and Lake Pontchartrain.
Colonel Duane Gapinski, Commander of the Corps’ Rock Island District, was given the task of unwatering New Orleans. He also had the task of emergency repair of the levees, which meant that his team was pumping water out of New Orleans in one area and repairing damaged levees in another.
One of Col. Gapinski’s top priorities became repairing the city’s pumps. Although more than 100 temporary pumps were working around the clock, their pumping capacity couldn’t compare to the amount of water New Orleans’ permanent pumps could move. For example, the largest temporary pump in use could move water at a rate of 45,000 gallons per minute, whereas many of the permanent pump stations could move water at a rate 10 times that, or 450,000 gallons per minute.
The unwatering team worked with local levee districts, state and federal environmental protection agencies, sewerage and water boards and private contractors to get the job done.
Temporary Roofing Missions - complete
Operation Blue Roof is a priority mission managed by the Corps for FEMA. The program provides assistance to storm victims in disaster areas through the installation of rolled plastic sheeting on damaged roofs, thereby helping to protect property and allowing residents to remain in their homes, and reducing the amount of temporary housing needed.
In less than six months, 81,318 temporary blue roofs were installed in Louisiana, with the last blue roof installed on March 6, 2006. In Mississippi, 47,976 roofs were installed in less than 4 months, with the last blue roof installed by the end of December 2005. Mississippi roofing teams established an outstanding benchmark by installing 1,750 blue roofs in a single day.
Temporary Public Structures - complete
The Louisiana RFO completed installation of 310 temporary public structures on August 18, 2006, including 216 classrooms, several police stations, fire stations and pumping station facilities.
In Mississippi, the hardest hit towns lost most of their public infrastructure. By February 14, 2006, Corps teams had completed 726 temporary structures, enabling communities to get moving again. The RFO was able to set up and complete a single classroom, ready for use, in as little as 8 days from delivery. On average, a 50 to 80 classroom school, on a vacant site where utilities had to be established, would take about 80 days to complete - from delivery to ready for occupancy.
Debris Mission
The Louisiana RFO removed almost 24 million cubic yards of an estimated 26.5 million cubic yards of what the Corps calls “traditional” hurricane debris. We all know that sometimes work stinks. Well, it was stinky every day for those involved in the Corps meat removal mission. In addition to removing the traditional type debris, the Louisiana RFO was also tasked by FEMA with removing massive amounts of spoiled meat from warehouses in New Orleans – more than 36 million pounds.
The RFO also hauled nearly 120 million pounds of trash from the city of New Orleans and cleaned mile after mile of drainage ditches across the state.
Additionally, the RFO has been tasked to remove 6.5 million cubic yards of demolition debris from an estimated 18,000 structures in Louisiana. This adds up to near four and one-half times the debris from Hurricane Andrew. Picture if you can, 40+ million washing machines at 1 cubic yard each.
The debris mission in Mississippi included about 80 miles of the Mississippi coast from Waveland, Pass Christian, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula. Nearly 45 million cubic yards of debris has been removed from public and private property in Mississippi by the Corps and locally hired contractors. The Corps’ mission was just over 20 million cubic yards and the Corps contractor averaged about 66,000 cubic yards of debris per day for 305 days through June 30, 2006. The Corps’ debris mission (in Mississippi) was extended after that through August 28, 2006, to help pick up smaller and more isolated amounts of debris while local governments put contracts in place to finish collecting debris as homeowners continue to return and rebuild their homes and businesses.
While flying over the Mississippi Gulf Coast to survey the damage, Col. Vesay thought to himself, “Less the shooting, downtown Baghdad was in much better shape than the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
The Corps has not been alone in the FEMA-assigned debris mission. Disposal efforts associated with this cleanup will continue to be done in close coordination with the local community, the Louisiana and Mississippi Departments of Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard, among others.
Task Force Guardian
Colonel Lewis Setliff, the Corps’ St. Louis District Commander, was tasked to head up Task Force Guardian. This special task force was responsible for repairing damages to the Greater New Orleans federal hurricane and flood protection system, and restoring the system to pre-storm levels of protection by June 1, 2006, the start of hurricane season.
The Corps of Engineers repaired and restored 220 miles of floodwalls and levees since September 2005. With a few exceptions, New Orleans had Pre-Katrina flood and storm-level protection by the beginning of this hurricane season (June 1, 2006). This system is in equal or better condition than it was when Katrina hit. For example, new levees were constructed with erosion-resistant clay and a more stable construction (T-wall versus I-wall). In addition, new erosion protection has been added at several sites, and a program of tree cutting on existing levees for protection is ongoing. Additional pumping capacity and floodgates have been added at the outfall canals.
“It was an unprecedented effort,” said Col. Setliff. “There were a lot of folks who didn’t believe it could be done.” But TF Guardian accomplished the task by utilizing a team of national and local contractors, the Corps, local experts, and citizens of Southeast Louisiana. Most worked seven days a week, usually 12 hours a day, for more than eight months.
The cost of the work totaled more than $801 million; construction included 59 projects using 26 contractors. Excavation work in rebuilding the levees took nearly 5.5 million cubic yards of soil. Several times that amount was dug, however, in order to find enough soil that qualified as upgrade material. 155 vessels had to be removed from the levees.
"It's not about statistics," Gen. Crear said. "In the final analysis, as I look back on this disaster, what I am most impressed with are the people. It was a team of teams. They delivered an unheard-of performance in just eight months.
"The locals who participated in this – and that includes New Orleans District (Corps) people – did an amazing job. These people lived behind the levees, too,” stated Crear. Their families were impacted, but they put their lives on hold to help get this work done.”
In Mississippi, by the end of August, the Corps will have completed all tasks assigned by FEMA and local partners. On August 29th, the Corps will no longer have contractors, personnel, or authority in place to provide additional support. Debris removal operations after August 28 will be coordinated directly by local authorities with direct support from FEMA. (Emphasis GCN - Ed.)
In Louisiana, the Corps continues to upgrade the hurricane protection system in order to better defend New Orleans against another massive storm. The Corps will soon begin the process of bringing levees and floodwalls in the Hurricane Protection System up to the FEMA certified level for a 100-year flood.
The Corps commissioned an Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) composed of 150 subject matter experts from government, academia and industry to analyze the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the hurricane protection system to develop a list of lessons learned which are leading to state of the art improvements in the engineering of a comprehensive hurricane protection system.
IPET findings and recommendations were continually provided to the Corps (since November 2005) and used to make their repairs stronger and better. IPET findings helped the Corps in the assessment of weaknesses in the protection system and IPET results will also be used in design guidance to build future protection projects.
The Corps’ work to upgrade the flood and storm protection will continue through 2010. This work includes stronger levees, floodwalls and interior drainage, including:
Replacing failed I-wall design floodwalls with stronger T-wall or L-wall design floodwalls.
Reinforcing the most vulnerable undamaged I-walls and the surge protection closures.
L-wall structures are used in areas where sufficient land is not available for T-wall design structures.
To date, the federal government has appropriated more than $5 billion to complete this work.
Congress has directed the Corps to develop a plan to protect the State of Louisiana from damages caused by a Category 5 hurricane. That effort is underway. The plan is expected to include a combination of structural features, such as levees or gates; non-structural features (which could include enhanced evacuation planning and protocols for more rigorous building codes); and restoration of coastal features, such as wetlands, that can dampen storm surge. The Corps is required to present the plan to Congress not later than December 2007, although some highly promising components of the plan may be recommended in advance of the complete report. Actual construction of the plan components will require authorization and annual funding by Congress.