By R. David Paulison
In order to best help individuals and families displaced by Hurricane Katrina, I'd like to clarify several misconceptions about FEMA's efforts to assist victims presently located in hotels in Arkansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. As of December 1, FEMA will discontinue its short term housing program; however, evacuees may still use other FEMA grants to stay in those hotels.
Let me be clear that FEMA will not be evicting anyone from their hotel room. In fact, FEMA offers up to 18 months of rental assistance to eligible households displaced by Katrina. Thousands of victims have received checks for $2,000 for immediate needs assistance, $2,358 for transitional housing assistance and some will receive up to $26,200 for disaster assistance if we determine their home is too damaged to return.
Without question, Hurricane Katrina's unprecedented impact on communities in Louisiana and Mississippi has called for equally unprecedented measures from FEMA to meet the housing needs of the hundreds of thousands displaced by the storm.
We've worked closely with state, local and volunteer partners in communities across the country to help the victims of Katrina move toward recovery. In the process, FEMA has already put over $4 billion in individual and housing assistance in the hands of Hurricane Katrina victims, not to mention another $1 billion for debris removal and other public assistance efforts.
Despite these efforts, the agency is deemed a "Grinch" without perspective on all that has been done and continues to be done to make sure that Katrina evacuees have safe and secure housing while they rebuild their lives.
Over the past three months, many of those displaced by Katrina have made tremendous steps in returning normalcy to their lives ? renting apartments, enrolling kids in schools, finding jobs and reestablishing their self reliance. Now, almost three months after Hurricane Katrina and two months after Hurricane Rita, we must help those remaining in hotels get squarely on the road to recovery.
Since Katrina first hit, FEMA has encouraged hurricane victims to go online at www.fema.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) (TTY 1-800- 462-7585 for the speech or hearing impaired) to register for FEMA assistance, which can include housing assistance for those eligible. We continue to work to inform individuals and families about their options and provide resources and tools to make this important and necessary transition to rebuild their lives.
In this effort, additional resources are being employed to reach out and help evacuees move from short-term lodging to long-term housing by December 1, the previously announced date by which federal reimbursement of hotel and motel rooms ends. We've used press releases, public service announcements, phone calls to victims and "strike" teams going to shelters and hotels. FEMA has also set up a housing referral service. Evacuees can call 1-800-762-8740 (TTY 1-800-462-7585) daily from 8 am to 9 pm EST for assistance in finding housing across the country.
We will continue to provide short-term funding for victims to stay in hotels through the end of November. That means that by November 30, tens of thousands of Katrina victims will have had a safe, private and comfortable home -- be it a hotel or motel room -- for three months after the storm at no cost to them and without reducing their eligibility for other FEMA assistance.
Beginning December 1, evacuees can choose to stay in the hotel room, using their FEMA individual assistance to pay the nightly rate. However, in order to make the best use of the financial assistance being made available to them, we strongly encourage families to look to more cost effective options that offer greater privacy and stability like apartments and houses. The bottom line is t...