The federal government has been holding a weekly series of meetings with Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to make sure that Hurricane Ike victims are getting the help they need. More than 7-thousand families have applied for housing assistance through FEMA. The agency then makes recommendations to HUD, which in turn forwards the information to city and county housing authority offices. Judge Emmett and Mayor White sought clarification on the number.
Emmett: “It strikes me as a little odd that of these numbers, the heavy percentages inside the city of Houston, because of you look at where the homes were destroyed, that doesn’t seem to match up. We don’t mean to belabor it right now, but at some point I’d like to look at those numbers, see where those origin zip codes are, because I’m a little concerned about the numbers and the way they seem to be skewed right now.”
White: “Could FEMA provide as part of a report, and this goes to Judge Emmett’s question, a breakdown by zip code, of the 7736 referrals that have been made. —Would that be possible?”
Mayor White expressed concern over the amount of red tape victims must go through to get assistance. Phillip Parks directs the Houston-Harris County FEMA area field office.
Parks: “Sometimes that process can seem agonizingly slow. However, the process is there for a reason, and it’s there to make sure that there is accuracy and that there’s proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars. And yet, we extend the assistance to those who have eligibility. The establishment of that eligibility is extremely important, especially for individual assistance applicants.”
The registration and intake period for housing assistance has been extended to December 12th and Parks says folks who have not yet registered to do so at 800-621-FEMA. Judge Emmett calls the meeting productive, but:
Emmett: “Unfortunately, in a country this size, heads of agencies don’t always have the local knowledge that they need. I just want to be sure that they understand the way the storm impacted our area. Yeah, there was a broad destruction, but in terms of the level of destruction, it’s very specific where that storm surge hit. I want to be sure that the communities that were impacted by the storm surge get attention absolutely at the top of the list.”
There’s about 8.5-million dollars in the Ike Recovery Fund and over 4-million has already gone out to assist families.
Pat Hernandez, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.