Gulf Coast Families “Are Being Torn Apart” This Holiday SeasonCommunities still recovering from economic impacts of BP oil drilling disasterGulf Coast residents, small business owners and advocates spoke yesterday about how families and community businesses in the Gulf Coast region are still reeling from the environmental and economic impacts of the largest oil catastrophe in U.S. history. The Gulf of Mexico’s natural resources are pillars of the Gulf Coast economy. The BP Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster is taking an especially severe toll during the holiday season, local residents and business owners say. Local industries are struggling, from tourism to charter fishing and ferry boating to seafood, and restoring the environment in the Gulf is crucial to a full recovery.”Families are struggling to meet their basic needs, such as food, paying bills,” said Daniel Le, Biloxi and Bayou La Batre branch manager for Boat People SOS, a service organization serving Vietnamese-Americans. “For many of these folks, fishing, oystering, crabbing, shrimping, are the only jobs they know.”Listen to the full briefing here, http://healthygulf.org/images/video/Gulf_Coast_Holiday_Struggles_Teleconference_Recording.mp3.Food drives have brought in residents by the hundreds, Le said, but the assistance of the community often isn’t enough, Le said. “People have sold their furniture, their TV, so they can buy food, and pay their bills and feed their children. This holiday season by far has been very tough on them. Parents come to us every day saying that they don’t have any money to buy gifts for their children, literally crying, begging for assistance. How can they get into any kind of holiday spirit when they struggle every day just to get by? Families are being torn apart.”Businesses – which were already facing a slowdown because of the nation’s economic recession – say no recovery is in sight eight months into the disaster. Many business owners from Florida to Texas say they need immediate action and support to stay afloat.”Our overall marketplace was decimated,” said Keith Overton, chief operating officer of Tradewinds Island Resorts in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the president of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We lost hundreds of millions of dollars as an industry over this past year. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to restore confidence in people that the Gulf of Mexico is safe.” While the claims process has covered his resort’s short-term losses, Overton knows that long-term business sustainability relies on restored and protected natural resources.Oil continues to wash up on the shores of the Gulf every day, said Captain Louis Skrmetta of Ship Island Excursions. His business ferrying passengers to Mississippi’s barrier islands has dropped by more than half this year, in part because of fear about the local seafood – one of the region’s biggest attractions, according to Skrmetta.”Right now people are afraid to eat the oysters. The locals won’t eat the oysters, so how can you expect people around the country to eat our seafood? That’s really hurt our tourism industry,” he said. “Without a good strong seafood industry, the next couple years look bleak.” Captain Skrmetta would like to see transparently distributed funding for restoration projects.These stories underscore the need for Congress to act on behalf of Gulf communities as soon as possible. Immediate Congressional action is crucial in supporting the establishment of a Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council and enacting legislation to ensure that BP’s Clean Water Act fines go directly to fund Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration.The full recording is available here, http://healthygulf.org/images/video/Gulf_Coast_Holiday_Struggles_Teleconference_Recording.mp3.