FEMA Deadline Approaches

The deadline for FEMA evacuees who are living in hotel rooms to get a new authorization number is fast approaching. FEMA officials are concerned that many are waiting until the last minute.

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The deadline is January 30th, this coming Monday. If a Katrina evacuee has not received a special hotel authorization number, FEMA will stop paying for the hotel room on February seventh. FEMA says 13,000 Katrina evacuees nationwide have received new authorization numbers. 2,400 of those are in Texas. FEMA's Albie Lewis says the authoriztation code will allow FEMA to pay for the hotel room for an extra week. But the goal is to transition the evacuees to longer-term housing.

"The authorization code allows FEMA to work closely with the individuals and families displaced by the hurricanes to ensure they are registered with FEMA for the assistance they need and to ensure they are fully processed for rental assistance eligibility before making the transistion to longer term housing."

Lewis says if eligible evacuees can receive cash rental assistance for up to 18 months. FEMA is relying on the media to get the word out to evacuees but there are other programs to try to get the word out.

"The first is a program that's run from headquarters directly to the hotels submitting bills. They have done flyers directly to the hotels instructing those hotels to place those flyers under the doors and on the doors and in the mailboxes so to speak of every evacuee in their hotel."

FEMA also has personnel visiting hotels. FEMA is concerned about the low number of people in Texas who have called for the new authorization number. FEMA says 6,200 Texas hotel rooms are occupied by evacuees, but so far about 2,400 have called. Lewis says some have found apartments but are waiting for furniture. He encourages them to call the FEMA number anyway.

"We also think there may be folks who are in the hotels who maybe shouldn't be there. This authorization code process will help to remove some of those folks who shouldn't be staying there under FEMA's nickel."

Lewis says even if an evacuee does not qualify for FEMA programs, the evacuee can be referred to other assistance agencies. Still progress is being made. FEMA notes initially 40,000 hotel rooms held Katrina evacuees.

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