CHICAGO – The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, issued the following statement regarding President Bush’s Recovery Plan for the Gulf Coast region:

The Bush Administration, Homeland Security and FEMA failed to provide the people of the Gulf Coast with needed rescue, evacuation and relief. As confidence in his administration fades and his poll ratings sink to record depths, the promises of his recovery plan are contradicted by his policies and practice.

The residents, communities and businesses deserve a Marshall Plan for the Gulf Coast that rebuilds industry, revitalizes farmland, repairs infrastructure, relocates residents, retrains and re-employs the victims of the hurricane. The disaster victims from the region deserve priority in the reconstruction effort, incentives to return home, and priority in the allocation of contracts and jobs so they can rebuild their lives and communities as they work to revitalize the Gulf Coast region.

Giving priority to disaster victims should be a mandate of every government relief and reconstruction contract – not incentives for the corporate elite seeking to take advantage of working families. President Bush’s priorities, however, are different.

He spoke of “doing whatever it takes” to rebuild the Gulf Coast, but he issued an Executive Order effectively lowering the wages of reconstruction workers by suspending the Davis-Bacon Act which requires federal contractors to pay workers prevailing wages. This scheme will make it harder for workers to work their way out of poverty, and easier for the corporations to maximize their profits. Suspending Davis-Bacon leaves disaster victims vulnerable to the same conditions that left them in harms way in the first place.

Bush’s reconstruction plan excluded small businesses from bidding on contracts, and he quickly issued billions in no-bid, high-cost contracts to Halliburton, Fluor, and Bechtel – the same companies who have mis-spent billions in their failed reconstruction work in Iraq. Normal rules of contracting and competition are being waived so corporations can respond “quickly to the emergency.” Only one company – Shaw – is from Louisiana and has made a commitment to hiring disaster victims.

President Bush spoke of providing education assistance to victims displaced by proposing to grant billions in private school vouchers and undercut public education.

The victims of Hurricane Katrina deserve nothing less than a 9/11-like Victims Relief Fund based on the following:

1. People displaced by the Hurricane should not be disrespectfully characterized as “refugees” – and deserve the respect worthy of all citizens and deserve to be treated as such.

2. Hurricane victims deserve a Hurricane Victims Fund to provide resources to the affected people and families, based on the same compensation and assistance formula of the 9/11 Victims Fund.

3. There should be a freeze on mortgage payments and a moratorium on mortgage foreclosure proceedings; an amnesty from electrical, utility and telecommunications payments; and a freeze on implementation of the new bankruptcy law.

4. We need our people and families to be relocated to NEARBY facilities. Available military bases, state and national parks and other available public lands should be utilized to house people as CLOSE TO their former communities as possible.

5. Local businesses, community resources and residents should be given priority in the allocation of jobs and contracts and services provided for the rescue, relief and reconstruction of our communities – by FEMA, Red Cross and in government relief programs.

6. There needs to be a systematic effort to reunify families, many of whom are being separated and sent to different relocation destinations.

7. There needs to be an INDEPENDENT Commission to critique the government’s response to this crisis. The Administration and the Congress is incapable of investigating themselves.

8. We need counselors, social service workers, medical personnel and security resources in the emerging relocation centers to assist people and families with FEMA registration, unemployment and social security applications and other aspects of the transition ordeal.

Dispersed in forty states, Katrina’s victims are struggling to get by, as companies pick up contracts and others get the jobs. The victims of the Gulf Coast should receive priority in the allocation of contracts and employment, and a plan that can transform poverty into empowerment for the Gulf Coast region. A recovery plan for the Gulf Coast is an opportunity to creatively invest in communities, rebuild infrastructure and put the people of the Gulf Coast back to work. The billions of dollars in aid should help the people of the region help themselves; it should not become another windfall for the corporations.