On Monday, British Petroleum finally ponied up $52 million dollars to assist providers throughout the Gulf Coast in delivering mental health services for residents in need. Two studies, one by the Ochsner Medical Group and the other by National Center for Disaster Preparedness have both found Gulf Coast residents to be highly susceptible to symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD and substance abuse, similar to any regional group so impacted by a catastrophic event, especially one with no end in sight. The grant money from British Petroleum is both welcome and desperately needed.
It is also only part of the story.
Not covered by this $52 million dollars are more comprehensive benefits such as assistance in finding employment, education, case management, food, direct assistance for rent and mortgages, utilities and other expenses. These areas are typically covered by FEMA, and can only be invoked through the Stafford Act, something the President typically does at the request of governors in the affected states. None have made this request so Barack Obama has not invoked Stafford. The reasons given are simple, nobody wants the tax-payers to foot any of the bill for British Petroleum’s catastraphuk.
In the meantime, Catholic Charities recently announced it is almost out of money and is now operating on scarce reserves. The organization has been providing assistance for food, rent and utilities to 19,000 families affected by the oil spill. In May, British Petroleum gave the charity $1 million dollars to help but when provided services cost $120,000 a week and BP’s initial donation came in almost three months ago, this has left Catholic Charities running on fumes while more families request assistance every week. As reported in Mother Jones, at one center a couple of weeks back “200 people showed up for 125 [grocery] cards. We’re still seeing more people than we can help,” said Margaret Dubuisson, Catholic Charities’ director of communications. Those at the charity, while appreciative of BP’s initial assistance and the mental health grant recognize behavioral health as only part of the problem, worries about feeding your family, paying the rent and bills and finding new work all contribute to the continued anxiety and stress of the region.
In June, twenty-seven non-profits aligned with Catholic Charities and requested an additional 12 million dollars from British Petroleum to assist in resources for providing services. While British Petroleum has made no promises, they say the request is under consideration, releasing a statement that reads in part, “We are proud of the partnership we’ve had with Catholic Charities. They were first on the ground and provided immediate assistance to those in need. Our partnership allowed them to expand their efforts to seven parishes. We have received many proposals with similar requests…we have been in conversations with all parties, hoping to identify the best way to support the community.”
While their consideration is appreciated, receiving no definitive answers have forced the charities to seek other ways to meet demand.
The Executive Director of Catholic Charities, Tom Costanza hopes the solution could be the Oil Spill Trust Fund created by the Oil Pollution act of 1990. Currently this fund has 1.6 billion in reserve, but its Chief of Programs Branch John Baker said in an interview the fund cannot be spent on human recovery, though the law might be amended to make such a thing possible, “We don’t even do pain and suffering or personal injury,” Baker said. Also off-limits is British Petroleum’s $20 billion dollar trust fund. Kenneth Feinberg, the trusts administrator recently stated that while he hasn’t ruled out all help to non-profits, he feels that financial assistance to food banks and temporary shelter programs is not covered by the fund. Mary Landrieu seconded this, stating that while she would work to help the non-profits, this is not how the claims fund is intended to be used.
These rejections are leaving Gulf Coast charities in a bad position. Broke, and breaking. Not having access to FEMA is “whole new ground in disaster recovery,” Costanza said.
So, taking a step back from all this, one question must be asked: would the charities and the people of the Gulf Coast be in these straits if it weren’t for BP’s catastraphuk?
19,000 families wouldn’t be in need of help. Rents wouldn’t be going unpaid. Jobs wouldn’t be lost and they wouldn’t be having trouble putting food on the table. While everyone is appreciative of the initial donation by British Petroleum which allowed the non-profits to, as BP’s statement rather self-servingly put it, “expand their services into several parishes,” it is not helpful when that company then stops any further assistance and makes the charities wait and wonder for two month whether any more assistance will be forthcoming. Feinberg has decreed that he will expedite claims in 48 hours to affected Gulf Coast residents and this is a great thing, but what of the affected families who experience glitches in paperwork, have trouble documenting their claims, or run into other bureaucratic snafus? And what of the people the charities were assisting before this oil spill, who were already in need, whose assistance will suffer because the end results of this oil spill broke the charities they were depending on?
British Petroleum owes these charities much more than they have given.
And not to be ignored are the politics involved. None of the regions governors, especially the two with 2012 presidential aspirations want to be the guy who asks the president to invoke the Stafford Act, especially when they run on campaigns of a limited federal government, but in the meantime their constituents suffer and will continue to do so even with the $20 billion dollar escrow and the $52 million dollar mental health grant. Yes, calling in FEMA would put this on the taxpayers dime, but hasn’t the government been issuing bills to British Petroleum for services rendered all along? If the 1990 oil pollution act doesn’t allow these reimbursements, then why not work to change the law and make it retroactive?
Of course none of that would be necessary if BP would just come through on making people whole as they have so often promised.
When announcing the mental health grant on Monday, Lamar McKay, British Petroleum’s US President said:
“We appreciate that there is a great deal of stress and anxiety across the region and as part of our determination to make things right for the people of the region, we are providing this assistance now to help make sure individuals who need help know where to turn…”
That’s nice Mr. McKay, but helping people cope with mental health problems without working to alleviate the conditions fueling the stress, anxiety, PTSD and depression is like closing a window only halfway to keep out the storm’s driving rain.
Your company broke the charities.
Your company bought them.
The ultimate responsibility to fix this mess is yours.
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Have a nice day.