Devastation caused five years ago to the Gulf region by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita remains historic in proportion. It resulted in loss of life, families being displaced, homes and businesses destroyed, and communities left in ruins. In the midst of this great tragedy, USDA Rural Development lent their knowledge and time to assist in the immediate hours following the passing of the storms. It was a new, but critical role of supporting other Federal agencies in swiftly establishing 80 disaster recovery centers; assisting local residents and leaders as they faced unparalleled adversity.
In the early days of the recovery efforts, USDA Rural Development placed 10,343 evacuees in 3,552 available housing units in 45 states, provided over 22,000 families with temporary loan forbearance agreements on their mortgage payments, and received almost 11,000 calls for assistance from affected residents. Over the last five years, USDA Rural Development continued to stand beside Gulf Coast families and communities as they undertook the challenge of rebuilding their lives and local economies.
Today, we have great pride in how families and communities have regained their sense of dignity and hope, in many cases, because USDA Rural Development was there along the path to recovery. One example is Ms. Samantha Hills, a single mother of two daughters who spent the last five years living with relatives. Employed as a bus driver with St. Charles Parish Schools, and working part-time as manager with Burger King, Ms. Hill has utilized funding provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to buy her own home. She is one of hundreds of Louisiana families that have utilized USDA Rural Development’s single-family housing programs to rebuild their lives. In fact, over the last two years, over 1,100 Louisiana families have been assisted through $165 million in ARRA funds for financing their home.
When we look at the devastation caused by Katrina and Rita, or later with the Mid-West floods, or more recently the Gulf oil spill, we are reminded that both man-made and natural disasters frequently leave families and communities with a great sense of loss and the emotional and financial challenge of rebuilding their homes, businesses and communities. I am proud of the women and men of USDA Rural Development, who rolled up their sleeves to help in this rebuilding effort.
Dallas Tonsager is Under Secretary of USDA Rural Development
Read more from the Hurricane Katrina: 5 Years of Remembering & Rebuilding series.