It's been two years since Hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans region, but despite $6 billion spent on cleanup and rebuilding and 256 miles of floodwall system repaired, only 7 percent of the city's Lower 9th Ward's residents have returned.
Statistics like these are what make the New Orleans region a prime stop for presidential candidates from both parties. No less than five candidates, including front-runners Sen. Hillary Clinton, N.Y., former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will arrive this week in an attempt to connect with voters, point out the Bush administration's failures and outline their plans for rebuilding the area.
Obama said repairing the levies is not enough.
"We've got to get the levies and pumping stations working, but we also have to rebuild wetlands and marshes around the coast," Obama said. "We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. And so I want the federal government to focus on building police forces here."
Obama said his plan to rebuild New Orleans also includes making sure the area receives additional money to attract doctors, nurses and teachers to the region and "finally just fixing the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] bureaucracy, making sure applications take no more than two months to actually be processed and to get an answer back to homeowners."
Delayed response and a crippling lack of organization made FEMA the target of harsh criticism in the days and weeks following Hurricane Katrina. But there was time when the agency was efficient, Obama said.
"We know FEMA has worked in the past because it was independent, run by someone who understands emergency management," he said. "We propose the FEMA director should be independent, should have a six-year term like the FBI director not subject to politics, reporting directly to the president on reconstruction process," he added.
"And so we're going to have to do some restoration rebuilding that agency in part because there's no reason to assume this is the last controversy or catastrophe we're going to be dealing with in the years to come."
But retooling FEMA is only part of the solution, according to Obama.
"Part of what I think the next president will have to do is reinspire a new generation of civil servants who want to get into the federal government," Obama said.
Insurance Companies' Responsibility
Obama said insurance companies should also play a role in New Orleans' recovery.
"Homeowners can't get home insurance that is affordable," he said. "What we've proposed is to have a catastrophic insurance component, a national catastrophic reserve that is paid for in part by fees charged to the insurance companies that caps the kind of exposure that any single homeowner can have.
"I think its fair given the extraordinary profits that insurance companies have been mounting in recent years," Obama said. "It's appropriate to say to the companies, 'You've got to be a part of this process of solving this problem.' Insurance can't just be profit making machine where they don't have to pay and when you have to pay they walk away."
Some see Obama's plan as merely goodwill and believe that because of the many roadblocks they have laid along on the path to recovery, it may be unrealistic to expect insurance companies to be part of the process.
Obama said the way to change that idea is by having government representatives sit with insurance companies and let them know they will be unable to "cherry pick those profitable lines of business and not get involved when people desperately need insurance."
Obama said he would encourage Republicans to be part of the rebuilding process.
"I think its important for all of us to recognize that the more we can set aside our differences the [more we] can more forward and have disagreements that are honest about strategy and tactics without accusing each other of being unpatriotic or weak on terrorism more effective we are going to be and the better our decision making is going to be."