Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to fix the emergency food voucher screwup

Posted By on Wed, Sep 10, 2008 at 3:53 PM

Whoo-ee, but that plan to get emergency food vouchers into the hands of Louisiana citizens is -- as my favorite nola.com blogger would put it -- a hot mess:

Topping the list of problems was miscommunication between state officials and New Orleans police on whether applications would be taken at St. Maria Goretti Church, 7300 Crowder Blvd., the only city location open on Tuesday.

Despite conflicting reports, that location is closed, according to state Department of Social Services spokeswoman Cheryl Michelet. There is only one site open in New Orleans today, she said, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which began taking applications at 8 a.m.

Lines at that location began forming around 1 a.m., and for a brief time, police officers were redirecting people away from there as well, telling them to report to the New Orleans public library branch at Tulane and Loyola avenues.

New Orleans Police Department spokesman Bob Young said that's because the library was announced as a new location at 7 p.m. roll call on Tuesday. Word of the convention center site didn't reach Superintendent Warren Riley until 12:30 a.m., Young said, and despite radio broadcasts, many overnight officers did not get the word before the 7 a.m. shift change.

"Police were just trying to do those people a favor," Young said.

Seems like we fixed the evacuation problems (mostly), but not the contraflow or the post-evac situation. But I think I have a solution.

Let's put the government functionaries charged with implementing the 2009 digital-TV switchover in charge of all emergency relief.

I'm serious. You can't turn on the TV without stumbling across a commercial for the DTV program. Stations actually run crawls across prime-time programming advertising it. And the program's Web site is a marvel of simple explanation and efficiency, taut and supple as Joan Rivers' face.

When it was announced that the U.S. government would actually be issuing debit cards to the populace (regardless of income) in order to buy converter boxes, I laughed. Surely the small-government conservatives would be up in arms about this ridiculous giveaway. Surely some liberal groups would be complaining about a system that did nothing to address health care or hunger, but ensured that no American could go hungry for Deal or No Deal, for According to Jim, for A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila.

That's how stupid I am. To this day, I haven't heard a word of protest from anyone at any point of the political spectrum about the U.S. government giving out hundreds of millions of dollars for what amounts to a TV welfare scheme.

But why fight it; the government-backed TV converter program is the most efficient federal giveaway I've seen in my adult life, and whoever is running it is a genius at streamlining. So have those people take their focus off Howie Mandel and Judge Judy for a few days. Send 'em down to Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes to make sure people have ice and MREs. Put a few of 'em at the Convention Center to hand out beans and rice instead of more entertaining but less nutritious staples like The Tyra Banks Show and Don't Forget the Lyrics! And while you're at it: get those people who wrangle the audiences at The Price is Right and The Tonight Show to handle the lines outside.

I'm tired of hearing that government can't solve problems...because I've seen that when it comes to something truly important -- like watching the Home Shopping Network in glorious, pore-revealing HDTV -- government works at maximum efficiency and the USA is still #1. Let's put that ingenuity to work, people.

Are we or are we not smarter than a fifth-grader?

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