Stay A Little Longer: FEMA Extends Housing Deadline

Katrina evacuees enrolled in a program that pays their rent and utilities will now have more time to recertify for that housing assistance. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, FEMA has extended a deadline three months in order to clear-up confusion.

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The extension affects thousands of evacuee families in Houston who qualified for emergency housing assistance after last year's hurricanes. Typically, families have to prove that they're using the assistance money to pay their rent and utilities every three months in order to continue in the program. FEMA's Franchesca Ramos says many evacuees didn't realize they had to recertify.

"We understand that many people had July 31st and August 31st deadlines to recertify and we understand that this can create confusion for evacuee families on the different government programs, so we have provided this extended period to allow them time to provide to us the necessary documentation in order for them to recertify."

FEMA says thousands of evacuee families received letters informing them about the recertification requirements, but only about 10-percent responded. The agency feared that almost 30,000 evacuees would have to be recertified at the end of August, but because of the extended deadline, that's no longer the case. Ramos says only evacuees who were part of the 403 emergency program and then moved into the 408 program are eligible.

"Those families who had already been in the 408 program from the beginning of the declaration period when they applied for FEMA assistance, those that had gone into the individual assistance program from the beginning, those families have indeed been recertifying with us and will continue to do so."

John Walsh is Mayor Bill White's deputy chief of staff for neighborhoods and housing and considers FEMA's extension one of the most progressive decisions on the part of a federal agency that he's seen.

"It recognized the consequences of termination of housing benefits for a large number of people. It recognized the difficulties associated with the process that had been created for the certification to continue the housing and how that had not been effective. It extended the deadline for a long enough period of time for FEMA to work out the kinks in its process for certification."

FEMA plans to end its evacuee housing assistance at the end of February. Evacuees who need information about the recertification process can call 1-800-621-3362 or go online to fema.gov.

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