Is FEMA Still Paying Your Bills?

When our local Illinois Red Cross volunteer asked me last week, "Is FEMA still paying your bills?" I knew how bad the Katrina preconceptions had gotten.

In the middle of the night, I woke up and thought of changing the definition to 8/29 for another chance to open the dialogue as an evacuee. The RE-Define 8/29 campaign attempts to open a new dialogue about the flood's after-effects, without the negative associations that have started to follow those of us who are still displaced.

It's about redefining what it feels like to still be far from home with no return in sight.

Hundreds of the musicians our grass-roots charity, the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund (www.nomrf.org) helps are now located in towns where their music is largely unknown. Many of our grants go to Houston where New Orleans musicians who had nothing to do with the rise in crime have been labeled "Katricians." Texas alone has absorbed a quarter of a million New Orleaneans who have no home to return to. Georgia houses another 100,000.

We're working to RE-define 8/29 by changing the dialogue about the biggest forced migration since the Dust Bowl. Our definition of 8/29, 2005 is that it was the last day most displaced New Orleaneans could go home.

The RE-Define 8/29 campaign is also about dropping preconceptions of Katrina victims buying designer purses with their FEMA money. It's about displaced musicians needing NOmrf grants to quite literally survive. They still face problems including lack of proper health care and not making enough money to support their families. Many are still trying to replace their gear and CD merchandise.

The national media has passed us by. That's why re-framing the language and letting go of Katrina preconceptions is a start in helping the musicians who have not made it home.

Eighty thousand families in Louisiana are still living in FEMA trailers. Not enough low income housing is available in New Orleans for most musicians to return. NOmrf offers an apartment for returning musicians on a rotating basis, but we would like to offer more.

Barriers to coming home include the fact that the $10.4 billion Road Home CDBG program does not apply to renters. Out of the 77,000 homeowners who applied for the CDBG funds, 28 people have received grants. Amnesty International USA is campaigning against the demolition of viable low-income housing.

Re-Define 8/29 is about emphasizing the need for safeguarding the musicians who do make it back to New Orleans. When a 28-year old bass player was shot and killed on his way home from a French Quarter gig, his father asked that donations be made in his memory to help other musicians.

"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted by the dB's, my husband¹s old band, is the official download for the campaign. (www.thedbsonline.net).

Anyone interested can help RE-Define 8/29 by making NOmrf part of your holiday purchases. A year in the making, we finally have merchandise. Everything from a RE-Define 8/29 Beer Stein to prints of what remains of my mother-in-law¹s family piano. (www.cafepress.com/nomrf).

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