Bureaucracy seems to be creating a new tide of trouble for hurricane victims. With this week's announcement that FEMA will soon stop paying hotel bills for Katrina survivors, a housing crunch may be on the horizon.
"We feel like we are citizens of the United States who are nearly forgotten," Democratic Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said yesterday. "It is a very frustrating thing. People are weary. They want to move on ... It's going to take us a while. And we still need help from Washington."
Federal and state officials are trying to ease fears that thousands of Louisiana hurricane families in Texas would be left homeless again after Dec. 1 when FEMA has said it will stop paying their hotel and motel bills.
"We are finding longer-term housing for all evacuees," said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security. "That's really a top priority, working with families to help them find some long-term housing options.
"Our top priority is meeting the needs of evacuees, making sure they receive the benefits and assistance for which they're eligible. FEMA assistance is going to continue after Dec. 1 for evacuees," Knocke added.
Texas is pushing FEMA to extend the aid deadline beyond Dec. 1. Houston Mayor Bill White, in an angry letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, said the deadline was unreasonable given the huge numbers of evacuees still in hotels. He also said that the requirement that evacuees be moved to apartments with three-month leases a rare find was never part of the city's negotiations with the federal government.
White also criticizes FEMA for its decision to close down a housing voucher program for Katrina survivors -- launched just three weeks ago -- for anyone who hasn't signed a lease by Dec 1. FEMA now says the vouchers will be available for three months, not 12 months as originally planned.
Katrina families living in New York will not be put out in the cold if FEMA goes ahead with a plan to cut off hotel payments on Dec. 1, according to city officials. The city has unveiled plans to fund a one-month extension of hotel stays for evacuees actively looking for permanent housing, while helping them move into apartments.
Still, many hurricane victims fear they will soon be out on the streets. More from the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph and the San Jose Mercury News.
Tags: Katrina, Hurricane, FEMA, Homeless, Media by Sistrunk