by: Laurie Johnson, May 12, 2006 12:05:00 am
The letters to evacuees state their eligibility for assistance is denied and they must find their own housing. But several social services organizations say FEMA made a commitment to help these families for a full year and it's wrong to withdraw the financial assistance now. Bob Fleming with Catholic Charities says it's too soon to expect the evacuees to get back on their feet without federal assistance.
"It's the largest crisis of its kind since the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Back in those days, survivors were promised 40 acres and a mule. It didn't happen. Today, they're being promised one year free rent and utitlities to get their life back in order and to resettle themselves. It's not happening."
Approximately 120,000 evacuees live in housing provided through Houston's voucher program. FEMA Public Information Officer Frank Mansell says most of the evacuees will receive as much as 18 months of housing asistance. He says the 8,000 who received ineligiblility letters are the exception.
"What you're seeing right now is letters sent out to those individuals who probably were not eligible in the first place. And these individuals will probably -- and probably have known for some time -- some of them have known for as long as two to three weeks after they registered that they were not eligible for FEMA assistance."
There are any number of reasons a family may be ineligible, including insufficient damage to the home, insurance disputes, lack of proper documentation and the list goes on. But United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast President Anna Babin says the federal government needs to think about the long-term needs of these families.
"Evacuees were counting on this assistance while they got employed and settled in Houston. And it's very hard when the rules keep changing to get settled."
Social services organizations are concerned many of the evacuees won't qualify for apartments at market rates and will be left homeless. But Mansell says FEMA is contacting every ineligible applicant to verify their status.
"We're phoning the individuals, we're looking over their case, line by line, and saying 'how about this? how about this situation?' doing everything we can to make sure that they qualify. FEMA doesn't benefit by cutting people off."
For those people who are ineligible, FEMA assistance will run out on June 30. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.