AUSTIN, Texas -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has launched an all-out media campaign aimed at getting approximately 16,000 Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees in Texas to provide FEMA the proof it needs to continue sending rental assistance to them beyond July 31.
Nationally, some 30,000 disaster victims whose FEMA’s direct assistance ends July 31 were sent letters asking them to return forms necessary to keep their housing assistance checks coming. Only about 10 percent did so.
In Texas, approximately 16,000 evacuee households in Houston and 2,500 households in other areas of the state received rent checks to cover May, June and July rents. If those households do not send back the necessary paperwork, they will make themselves ineligible for future assistance from FEMA, risking eviction if they can’t provide assurances to landlords of their continuing ability to make rental payments.
“We urgently want to help disaster victims along their road to recovery but they have to meet us halfway,” said E.C. “Butch” Smith, director of the Texas Transitional Recovery Office. “Under the law, we are powerless to continue to help evacuees if they don’t give us the information we need to continue helping them. We need this proof to allow us to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
All recipients of FEMA’s Individual Assistance under Section 408 must respond to letters that FEMA sends out every three months. These letters include requests for information that FEMA must have to “recertify” applicants. The recertification process lets FEMA know that the rental assistance has been spent for its intended purpose — paying the rent.
There are hundreds of thousands of FEMA registrants nationwide. All of them need to recertify, but when that happens depends on which month their help started. Since every case is unique, it is very difficult to track how many need to recertify at any given time. But one thing is certain: Come Aug. 31, another group of registrants will need to have recertified to continue receiving aid.
“FEMA is not a landlord and doesn’t evict anybody,” Smith emphasized. “But evacuees who make unwise choices about how they use FEMA’s rental assistance put themselves in jeopardy of not having a roof over their head. We do not want that to happen. Please recertify.”
Along with rent receipts, FEMA asks applicants to provide long-term housing plans. This is a simple statement describing the steps households are taking to be in permanent housing paid for through their own resources after rental help ends, up to 18 months after the date of the presidential declaration (Sept. 24, 2005 for Rita and Aug. 29, 2005 for Hurricane Katrina).
Rent receipts must be legible, include dates covered by the rent, include the name of the person or agency to whom the rent was paid, have the landlord’s signature, the amount paid, the address of the rental unit and the landlord’s name, address and telephone number.
Applicants who are declared ineligible for continued assistance from FEMA may be able to get help from other agencies, either public or private.
Evacuees may dial a state referral number, 2-1-1, to be connected with long-term recovery committees that have been established in more than 20 Texas communities to help hurricane survivors. Callers need to identify themselves as evacuees to receive appropriate referrals.
FEMA’s helpline, 1-800-621-FEMA (621-3362) (TTY 800-462-7585) remains available for those with questions about FEMA processes and to update files with address changes or other information. The line is available from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Calling after hours may result in f...