Reflections on Katrina

By Friedman, Jerry W. | Policy & Practice, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Katrina


Friedman, Jerry W., Policy & Practice


As a lover of Jazz, New Orleans has always had a special allure for me. As I watched the tragic events of Katrina unfold, the classic blues lyrics, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?" kept reverberating in my head. I kept thinking of my friend Leonard, a well-known French Quarter chef whom I was desperate to locate. I agonized at the level of human suffering occurring openly in this great city and the slow response to meet even the most basic needs. The juxtaposition of the victims of this storm, most of whom had lost everything, huddled in front of the Super Dome was haunting to me. It became evident that APHSA had to respond on behalf of our members in need, even though we are a private association without official standing in the relief community.

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APHSA adopted a multi-pronged approach with complete focus on providing relief. We established contact early with human service leaders in the affected states to offer our support and assess need. Meanwhile, staff was mobilized to gather and deploy resources, disseminate information, and intervene when required. The level of energy, team spirit, sense of urgency, and genuine concern was exemplary. All state and local members were surveyed to see what resources could be offered. Meanwhile, we set up a comprehensive tracking mechanism to monitor regulatory and legislative activity related to the relief effort. This work was posted on our web site, which served as a great resource for multiple audiences. Of critical importance was the technical work behind the scenes, including "tweaking" of policy to allow for the maximization of resources, flexibility, and simplicity.

APHSA's response was both strategic and tactical. In addition to the superb policy analysis under the direction of Elaine Ryan, we were directly involved in the delivery of relief services. When Texas opened its arms to Katrina evacuees, my co-worker Kathryn Dyjak volunteered her services in Houston and helped set up shelters and benefit centers. Gary Cyphers, deputy executive director of member services, raced the clock to coordinate the deployment of 163 volunteer eligibility workers from 10 states. These unsung heroes worked side by side with the dedicated staff from the affected states, many of whom were also victims of the storm. They processed thousands of emergency food stamp applications while sleeping in cots in church basements and, in some cases, in tents.

While many federal agencies received harsh criticism for their untimely and inadequate relief efforts, the response of the Food and Nutrition Service was exemplary. …

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