HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson sent a letter to the President and CEO of the American Red Cross expressing his concerns about the non-profit's response to Mississippi's March flooding.
"As Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I have spent well over a decade trying to work with ARC to address the issues that led to its inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina, and I am troubled that despite these efforts, many of the same problems persist in my home State of Mississippi," Thompson wrote.
"Ten years ago, I identified a series of failing that undermined ARC's response to Hurricane Katrina, particularly related to problems with ARC's staffing and inadequate community outreach," Thompson said. "Since then, I have worked hard to help ARC address its shortcomings. I also wrote to ARC - on at least two occasions - to express my concern about changes to its staffing model that I believed could negatively affect its ability to execute disaster response activities. Although well over decade has passed since ARC's botched response to Hurricane Katrina, similar planning and coordination and training problems continue."
Lamar County Emergency Management Director James Smith told ProPublica changes to that staffing model and recent cutbacks have hindered the Red Cross' response.
"The turnover rates have been tremendous here lately," Smith said. "This is a hotbed of activity, and the responses have been slow."
Thompson said, "As someone who has continually tried to work with ARC to address internal staffing and diversity challenges that have undermined its disaster response performance, I am concerned some of the problems appear to be getting worse."
Thompson asked the Red Cross to respond to three major concerns by June 13, 2016:
The American Red Cross sent WDAM 7 News this statement Thursday:
Thompson said he has committed to helping the Red Cross address its problems so future disaster response is improved.
"I do not question the important role ARC plays in helping communities respond to a disaster, nor do (I) question the passion and dedication of the thousands of local ARC volunteers spread across the country," he said. "That is why I was disturbed when ARC dismissed as hyperbole the complaints about its performance during the Mississippi flooding response. The time has come to chart a new course and address head on the challenges that have historically plagued the organization."