Wednesday, February 15, 2006
How would you spend $300 million?
What could you do with $300 million? That's how much money the federal government has spent on a ghost town of empty mobile homes sitting in Arkansas. My CNN colleague Susan Roesgen visited this ghost town a few days ago and wrote about it here.

The mobile homes are supposed to be used for temporary housing for Katrina victims, and FEMA says they will be soon, but red tape and some apparently bad planning have stranded them in Arkansas.

I spent yesterday on the phone talking to New Orleans residents about what else could have been done with that money. Real estate agents say more than 2,500 permanent homes could have been built and sold to working class folks. Then the money could have been turned around to build even more.

The school board has spent $20 million from its operating budget to reopen 20 schools. Educators say with $300 million almost every school in town could be running again. On it goes: Hospitals, police services, public transportation. People from New Orleans say there are many, many ways $300 million could have been better spent.

I pulled out my calculator and figured out one of my own. With $300 million, you could make a carpet of dollar bills more than five feet wide all the way from New Orleans to Washington, D.C. Imagine that.

Forget for a moment about government handouts, about relief fraud, about who is to blame for the myriad mistakes that happened before, during and since the storm. This is $300 million of your tax dollars. Could you come up with a better plan for it?
Posted By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent: 3:28 PM ET
  54 Comments
This just proves the incompetence of this Administration. It seems we need more common sense in our government.
Posted By Anonymous Jackie Hart, Fernley, NV : 3:41 PM ET
I could definitely think of a better way to spend $300 million...Chicago has been talking about building another football and starting another team so we can host the summer olympics. I think the $300 mil would take care of that just fube and maybe allow us to decorate a few more cows.
Posted By Anonymous dane mentzer, Chicago, IL : 3:49 PM ET
If I had that $300 million, I'd use part of it (maybe 5%?) to help re-unite the Katrina diaspora: folks who are now scattered all over the USA. I'd spend it on air-fare, bus fare, long-distance phone cards and/or cell phones and a special database of contact information (manned for one year with knowlegeable operators) to make sure that folks won't lose touch with the people they love. I ended up in Seattle and I have relatives somewhere in the shattered muck and mess of Biloxi and I have no idea of how to contact them. I know another evacuee here in Seattle from New Orleans who has no way to contact his 22-year-old son who is sheltering somewhere in Arkansas. There are thousands of these on-going "lost contact" stories.
Posted By Anonymous Jean, Seattle, WA : 3:50 PM ET
Why on earth would you spend 300 million on mobile homes when they cannot be put in a flood plain? You would think someone would have thought of this. For once I would like a politician to get up on TV and admit what went wrong and admit mistakes that they made and say I am sorry. I hate hearing the word "regret" on TV during an apology. Do people not say "sorry" anymore or is that politically incorrect?
Posted By Anonymous Daniel Pittsburgh PA : 3:59 PM ET
I could definitely think of a better way to spend 300 mil! How about: start with rebuilding the city's critical infrastructure, like roads, schools, hospitals, etc. I'm sure I could think of more, but that would be a good start.
Posted By Anonymous Linnea, Bloomington, MN : 4:02 PM ET
Oh really? Only 2,500 homes? Thats 120,000 each. Why the heck should poor people get 120,000 houses while I work 40 hours a week, and it'll take me 30 years to pay off a 120,000 house.

More like 5,000 or even 10,000 permanent homes.
Posted By Anonymous Patrick Jackson TN : 4:05 PM ET
It could have been spend on refrigerated vehicles to pick up victims disrespectfully left on sidewalks for days. Could also have been used to run DNA tests on victims much sooner. Could have been spend on cleaning the streets and houses a lot sooner. I could go on but the point is, they did not have a concrete plan and they threw the money all around the wrong places...
Posted By Anonymous Manon, Longueuil, Quebec : 4:07 PM ET
These things weren't even built for that region of the country. If that is so, then why would FEMA use so much, so much of my hard earned money to buy them? Why not buy the specified mobile home that goes in Costal Regions with soft soils? The mistakes are just building up with this administration and the leaders that it has installed into our system, all the while, it's an election year!
Posted By Anonymous Bo Whitener - Waco, Texas : 4:11 PM ET
I must agree, it is rather odd, but I'm sure there will be a solution to this. Somehow.

Anyway, the government has a reputation of misusing money. This isn't the first time.
Posted By Anonymous Constance, Norwalk, CT : 4:12 PM ET
I would feed the poor and hungry children of this country. It is astonishing how many of our children live in extreme poverty. Do you know how many children go to school each day without breakfast to get them started? For these children a balanced meal is not an option. Any meal is all they hope for. How about the children living without heat to keep them warm at night or running water to clean themselves with. Look close and you may see the face of poverty in places you could never imagine. $300 million could go a long way.
Posted By Anonymous Cheryl Raleigh, NC : 4:20 PM ET
Isn't it a shame that our government has no better organization that what we have. I believe the word is "incompetent"==It makes me sick to my stomach. Thanks for your efforts in making us aware. That has to be the first step toward improvement. Keep up the good work. I wonder every day" What can we do/"
Posted By Anonymous Wilson, Campton, Ky. : 4:20 PM ET
Leave it to the government officials to waste OUR tax money. Who else would do it? I know EXACTLY how to make $300 million work. Get those devastated by Katrina proper housing since FEMA is failing them again with the hotel situation and also help out the animal shelters that are really trying to save those poor animals.
Posted By Anonymous Alice, Richmond, VA. : 4:23 PM ET
Put another $300 million into the space program. Afterall, all the billions we have spent already will make life better for all of us any day now.
Posted By Anonymous Dave, Cleveland, OH : 4:26 PM ET
I'd develop a Jobs Program with the aim to eliminate the Welfare Program.
Posted By Anonymous Tina -Chicago IL : 4:33 PM ET
Yes, the real NEWS is the parishes who are fighting the mobiles coming in. We live in Ascension Parish (hi & dry) and the Parish Pres. has told FEMA no more trailers!! This is true with so many surrounding parishes.
Posted By Anonymous B. D. Miller, Prairieville,LA : 4:35 PM ET
Bad planning? I'd say no planning. Having botched the evacuation and care for those who remained in New Orleans after Katrina, the goverment went to work on their idea of a good plan. The plan may have looked good on paper, but they failed to consider all the variables and now those who are still in New Orleans and homeless are worse off than before. And we taxpayers have been betrayed by a government that can't seem to get it right.
Posted By Anonymous Marcia, Warren MI : 4:38 PM ET
I was nothing less than stunned when I saw this on CNN. Further, it appears the mobile homes are sinking into the groulnd and will need to be jacked up at an additional cost per home. Add'ly, I understand we are spending even more every month while these homes sit in their temporary space. I guess if FEMA waited to order the homes, they would get nailed for being too slow, but they should have had at least two plans to get these homes where they needed to go. I think CNN reported earlier it may be the case that the homes won't even work in LA due to the wet ground they would be placed on (they would sink). A balance of planning and action would be nice once in awhile.
Posted By Anonymous Rick, Plainfield, IN : 4:39 PM ET
I could definately find a better way to spend $300 million dollars. Perhaps we could educate the lower class in LA so that they may be able to improve their quality of life by getting better employment. This use would serve the people in many ways beyond hurricane Katrina problems they currently have. Imagine a tragedy working to make people better than they were before it happened.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer S., St. Louis, MO : 4:39 PM ET
I think that this is great. Everyone is complaining about what wasn't done right and what should have been done. Why don't we spend our time and money on creating new plans instead of investigating whose to blame. When we find out who is to blame, are we going have them pay for everything? No, they will probably be pleasantly asked to step down and receive a plump salary for a few years. Everyone can point out who is wrong and why. However we find it so difficult to create or implement anything positive.
Posted By Anonymous Brian Chicago, IL : 4:47 PM ET
I would spend the three hundred million dollars on removing levees in the low lying areas and installing gated spillways in the same fashion as the Atchafalaya River. This would enable the marshes to fill with sediments as it was intended to and restore the land with rich fertilized river soil. The Atchafalaya delta is proof that this is an effective approach because it is gaining ground instead of losing causing a net gain of wetlands. If we lose the wetlands then it will affect nearly every American citizen right in the wallet. Louisiana has the hardest working wetlands in America, produces or transports more than a third of the nation's oil and a quarter of its natural gas. These wetlands protect one of the most extensive petroleum infrastructures in the nation. Numerous refineries, the nation's largest natural gas pipeline hub, even the Strategic Petroleum Reserve are all protected from hurricanes and storm surge by Louisiana's vanishing marsh.
Posted By Anonymous Louie Bonnecarre, New Orleans La. : 4:50 PM ET
Could I come up with a better plan for $300 million? Could I come up with a worse plan for it? Not likely. Unfortunately, I think our government spends this kind of money on a regular basis for things that provide little or no real benefit to US taxpayers. What's different here is that we have something the media can photograph. We spent about the same amount of money to sling a copper ball into an asteroid so NASA could take pictures of what was inside. Was that better than fixing all the schools in New Orleans?
Posted By Anonymous Larry, Chapel HIll, NC : 4:50 PM ET
Why not just give a million dollars to each storm displaced family and let them shift for themselves after that. It would be cheaper.
Posted By Anonymous Ed Raciborski, Tampa, FL : 4:53 PM ET
If a major hurricane was headed straight for Washington D.C., the action plans would have been completely different.
Posted By Anonymous Darrin Cheraso - San Antonio,TX : 4:55 PM ET
Perhaps FEMA should try to recoup their $300 million by playing the lottery. Powerball is being drawn for that amount tonight (2/15) and it certainly presents a better chance for them than whatever they are doing now, which appears to be nothing. Or better yet, the city of New Orleans could try for a win themselves--at least they would have a say in how and where the money was spent.
Posted By Anonymous Paige Trahin Kraft, Baxter Springs, Kansas : 4:55 PM ET
This absolutely boggles the mind.

With $300 million, FEMA could have at least hired someone who know their butt from a hole in the ground.

We could have bought mobile homes from local dealerships and had them on site within hours, instead of rotting a day's drive away in Arkansas. Here in Lafayette, LA, we've got enough mobile homes to probably house every Katrina evacuee out there..And they all survived Katrina and Rita. Baton Rouge probably has even more mobile homes than Lafayette does.

We could have at least provided shelters that don't come with a time limit. We could have offered tax breaks to those of us who had evacuees, often strangers, sharing our homes. And yes, I did have evacuees staying in my home for free!

We could have taken care of our own homeless citizens, whose tax money was wasted in those rotting mobile homes as well.

FEMA is a joke, and an embarassing one at that. Can't we take that $300 million, disband FEMA, and try to find a more viable alternative to it?
Posted By Anonymous Donna LeBlanc, Lafayette, LA : 4:58 PM ET
I certainly wouldn't dole it out to individuals to spend. We've already seen what happened with the debit cards. There needs to be someone not associated with NO to manage that money. Bringing people home should be priority one. Make sure there is suitable housing for them until they are able to move back into their previous residence (assuming it was salvageable).
Posted By Anonymous Melodee, NPBeach, CA : 5:03 PM ET
I don't think that spending the $300 million on mobile homes was necessarily a terrible plan (although there are obviously better ones). My question is, why in heaven's name have they been just sitting in a mud hole in Arkansas when people obviously need them? Get your act together FEMA.
Posted By Anonymous Melissa Fife, Blackfoot, ID : 5:04 PM ET
I would pay off my current mortgage and two-year-old vehicle. That would be for starters. I would then fund my daughter's college career -- she's seeking a Nursing degree, and looking forward to grad school. I have two others, as well, with the first of them entering college in two years, so I would also foot the bills for their college educations, as well.

Once all the "essentials" are taken care of, I would look for a new home in the country, with about 50 acres of land, a modest three bedroom home, a garage, a play area for my dog, perhaps an ATV for me to play on my land, allowing my dog to run behind or beside me, and investing my money in a variety of places.
Posted By Anonymous Dave J., Philadelphia, PA : 5:06 PM ET
Our Federal Government does not care about what anything costs with the exeption of VA benifits and Social Security everything is just spend, spend, spend. They may say they have a federal budget but do they really, who cares about a budget but us working class citizens after all we do not have billions of tax dollars to collect then spend freely.
Posted By Anonymous Bill Franson, Nashville : 5:09 PM ET
Pay... down... national... debt.
Posted By Anonymous Michael- Chicago, IL : 5:10 PM ET
Tom,

I was one of those who responded when FEMA asked for help. Like many others I was trained in Orlando on their individual assistance services for applicants before being deployed into the devastated region in September. We learned then that the maximum amount of federal money available to an applicant/homeowner was $26,200. Do you know how many households could benefit from $300 million? 11,450

Some of us thought that due to the extent of the devastation, and the excessive bad press, it would have made a lot of sense for the government to just start handing out the money. The administrative costs, along with the waste, are going to be obscene and not responsible.

My brother has been involved in property mgt. for a long time in NOLA and he can't get FEMA to return his call � he wants to make some housing available, as well as suggest locations for trailers. Again, he can't get them to return his call.

I admire the FEMA line workers I met in Orlando and working out of the JFO in Baton Rouge. It was obvious they were overwhelmed with the situation and under-supported by their own leadership.
Posted By Anonymous Phil Adel, Philly, PA : 5:12 PM ET
Pardon me for a moment here, but I have to ask a question.

Has it been determined that these mobile homes were bought and paid for specifically to house those in the New Orleans area?

Last time I checked, N.O. wasn't the only place hit or devastated by the hurricane. In that case, it's entirely possible these are meant for other areas, and are to be seperated accordingly and sent their seperate ways. If they are set to go to the N.O. area then, yes, something is clearly wrong, and I support bringing attention to it so as to prevent such foolishness from happening again in the future. But since the report says they are "supposed to be used for temporary housing for Katrina victims", that leaves a very large swath of land as possible destinations.

For that matter, we're not even sure why they are stuck there, merely that they are. Perhaps Tom could discover this first before thinking up creatively alternative uses for the money. Seems to me whatever law or regulation or other red tape that is holding up the process is to blame for them being there, not the intent of the money spent. Clearly they thought these were the most cost-effective use for the money at the time, and equally clearly they did not count on them being bogged down in the middle of nowhere. Thinking up alternate uses for the money doesn't actually solve the problem, nor does pointing out the original plan hasn't been finished yet in any way detract from the legitimacy of said plan.
Posted By Anonymous Benson, Wichita KS : 5:15 PM ET
Blessed be...

How would I spend $300 million?...I would give $100 million to the St. Jude Children's Reasearch Center...
I would give another $100 million to the Ronald McDonald House...I would keep $10 million for my Coven...and the rest would be divided equally between other charities that my coven works to raise money for...
Posted By Anonymous Samantha Deveraux-Memphis,TN-C.E.O. of Sisters of the Triple Goddess Coven. : 5:17 PM ET
Take a look at the FEMA housing in Albany, Georgia (in flood plain btw). People are still living in those trailers ever since Hurricane Opal struck in 1995. How long will Katrina victims be 'kept' on the taxpayers nickel?
Posted By Anonymous Mary, Albany, GA : 5:19 PM ET
I'd hire a non-governmental company to create a plan and manage the rebuilding process, with compensation tied directly to the level of success.
Posted By Anonymous Tisha Wichita, KS : 5:22 PM ET
I think almost anyone could come up with a better way to spend $300 million. I think debris removal should have been on the top of the list for money spent in the Gulf Coast. Residents can't even begin to rebuild unless all of the garbage is removed. And how can you expect families to move back into the region if the streets are dirty and the playgrounds unsafe? Schools and hospitals would have been next on my list. At list one Level 1 trauma center should have been opened by now and more than 20 schools should be in session. Whatever money I had left over would have been put into permanent housing. Trailers are a great alternative right after the storm has hit, but eventually you need to recreate the infrastructure that existed prior to the storm. Returning the coast to the way it was before the storm will take years, but letting 11,000 trailers sit in a field in Arkansas is certainly not going to help to move the process along. I think the more people know about where their money is going, then the more influence they can have on the process. If no one speaks out, then nothing will ever change.
Posted By Anonymous Kim, Leola, PA : 5:27 PM ET
Well,Well,let me think..Could I possibly get my little bird brain to come up with a better plan on how to spend 300 million..First thing I'd do is rip up my big old rule book..Roll those moblie homes right into a floodplain if that's where they are needed! The time has come for those in charge to stop THINKING with their heads and start Thinking with their HEARTS..Just get it done..The log jam needs to be broken once and for all..
Posted By Anonymous Lorie Ann, Buellton,Calif. : 5:27 PM ET
The $300M was targeted for temporary housing for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I believe that original purpose was 100% correct. The execution appears to be poor, especially the purchasing of mobile homes that cannot be used in a flood plain. There just has to be more to that story.
Posted By Anonymous Bill, Columbus, OH : 5:34 PM ET
So, where did the money go? Who sold the trailers to FEMA? Did he/she get a commission? Who were the Sellers? Do they have any conection to the Bush government or some FEMA official? So, the bottom line is who got that money????
Posted By Anonymous Carole, Atlanta, GA : 5:34 PM ET
I would have bought the trailers, put them on some DRY land, and moved the evacuees in them, forget the red tape and other crap and put these people in their own environment. There, they can continue working, if their place of business was not destroyed, or they could find work cleaning up. Bless the poor people's hearts. They have been through so much, They do not want to be strewn about the US, in hotels/motels, etc., they want to be home, even if it is a FEMA trailer. I love BUSH, but he needs to lay down the law, and cut the so called "red tape" himself and get these Trailers filled and give these people a "home". Stop spening the money on hotels/motels, start rebuilding the destroyed homes with that money!!!!!!!!
Posted By Anonymous Kelly Beavers, Mt. Juliet, TN : 5:35 PM ET
For $300 million, you could purcahse 750 fire engines and give them to volunteer departments who have out of date and dangerous equipment. Or you could establish an endowment fund for the families of volunteer firefighters who die in the line of duty.
Posted By Anonymous Cameron Wohlford, Fairbanks, Alaska : 5:38 PM ET
If I had to spend 300 million tax dollars, I would use it as part of a program to increase teacher salaries in public schools. It doesn't matter what accountability standards are placed on schools if the teachers themselves can't even do some of the homework they assign. Therefore, give people more of an incentive to teach by giving them a raise and ensuring that American children have a chance to succeed. I am not going to pretend 300 million dollars is all we need to fix this problem, but I would rather have a few more capable teachers in this country rather than a scrap heap of useless mobile homes.
Posted By Anonymous Grayson B., Hamilton, NY : 5:41 PM ET
Sure: $300 million divided by the total population of counties and parishes in the Katrina/Rita zone. Minus 39 cents apiece to cover the postage when the checks are mailed.
Ok, that's an oversimplified explanation, but is the basic idea (or should be). Come on, how hard can it really be?
Posted By Anonymous Alice Ferguson, Lafayette, Louisiana : 5:53 PM ET
YES! In incentives to the Bank and construction industry to low rates of mortgages, loans to rebuild. Also creating jobs in reconstruction.
Just Try me.
Posted By Anonymous Concepcion Gonzalez ,Puerto Rico : 5:55 PM ET
I know, how about returning the money to the taxpayers! I am tired of giving the Katrina "victims" free money. Six months in a motel (for free) and still no job? You are out of luck. When can I decide where I want my tax dollars to go??
Posted By Anonymous Sheryl Riverside, CA : 6:06 PM ET
I just don't understand why the typical American has to balance their check book and make sure their income matches their spending when we have people in government jobs who cannot control the monies they are responsible for. I believe that we need to replace those in charge with individuals who understand what it takes to make a buck! The amount of Monies between this blunder and the monies lost in the Iraq situation and the waste of monies on going to check out the planet Pluto, would have helped our medicare and prescrition drug programs for the elderly and poor in a great way. But who really cares about the middle class, those who are in charge of these blunders make more than the average person and really don't care.
Posted By Anonymous Tim OHearn, Phoenix Az : 6:09 PM ET
What would I do with $300 million? I'd put it back in the treasury and not have spent in the first place. This was a great example of unfettered spending. Then again, any politician that suggested we sit back and think before we spend would have been counting his/her days in office. We, the electorate are the cause to this craziness.
Posted By Anonymous Brian, Columbus, OH : 6:13 PM ET
While it is a nice thought to give it to hospitals, schools, police dept. etc. it does not meet the basic need these people have for shelter. Step 1: Move trailers off flood plain. Step 2: Put people inside them. Step 3: Buy lumber and supplies for rebuilding. Step 4: Enlist construction companies to help rebuild homes. Simple enough?
Posted By Anonymous Theresa Costello, Immaculata, PA : 6:17 PM ET
300 mil is nothing. Put it in a pile and burn it.
Posted By Anonymous Trev, Los Angeles, CA : 6:18 PM ET
Instead of wasting dollars on mobile homes in Arkansas to temporarily house people, they should have given tax incentives to families & business willing to house, feed, & clothe them temporarily. Then, when it was safe to re-enter New Orleans, use the 300 million on rebuilding the city, helping small businesses restart, etc.
Posted By Anonymous Vicki, Reno, NV : 6:21 PM ET
I think we saw that the military is the only way to handle an event like Hurrican Katrina. We don't have to worry about political issues and our focus is mission first. We have the experience and backbone to take on these kind of tasks.
Posted By Anonymous MSG LARRY D. PARKER ARAB, AL : 6:23 PM ET
Why not set up remote communities of mobile homes, on stabile land, in case of an emergency somewhere. This way , if anything happens, all you have to do is transport the people to this site and set up basic services. a "vacant" town ready for any sort of emergency situation
Posted By Anonymous Craig , Akron, Ohio : 6:35 PM ET
I can understand certain bureaucratic problems preventing the trailers from reaching their destination, but I can't understand those that are not only mislocated, but unusable. When they were ordered, didn't anyone know how big they were (too large for driveways) and that they needed utility hook ups to work? I get basic product specifications before I buy a $10 product off of Ebay, but apparently the government can't be bothered with such inquiries when spending $300 million.
Posted By Anonymous Michele Jackson, Porter Ranch, CA : 6:35 PM ET
People will not begin returning to our wonderful city until they feel secure. Somewhere along the line, people need to realize that Katrina did very LITTLE damage to the city of New Orleans. The levees FAILED to protect our people and this was a MAN MADE disaster due to the incompetence of the US Corp of Engineers and the mismanagement of OUR money! The people of New Orleans are mad and rightfully so... we need to MAKE LEVEES not war....so , step 1- use the millions of dollars that FEMA has to secure our levees and make sure the people have somewhere and something to come back to or start life somewhere else. Someone needs to be held accountable and it is NOT mother nature.
Posted By Anonymous MJIH, New Orleans, LA : 9:17 PM ET
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