FEMA Deadline Approaches for Katrina Evacuees

More than 4,000 hurricane Katrina evacuee families in Houston have until the end of the month to either transition to a new FEMA housing assistance program or start paying rent and utilities on their own. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The 4,400 hundred families have been enrolled in FEMA's 403 Emergency Shelter Program since soon after Katrina, with the government paying their rent and utilities for the almost full year since the disaster. FEMA's Don Jacks says the families still enrolled in the 403 program are the last of a long list of evacuees who have since transitioned to other assistance programs.

"Many of them may not have even been eligible for FEMA assistance at all, but in the compassionate nature in which we were working last September, moving families out of the Astrodome, we said we'll help you and we continued to help through the fall and into the spring and we were going to end the program at the end of May, it got extended 60 days, it's been extended another 30 days now and will end, definitely will end August 31st."

Jacks says FEMA has done all it could to reach families who face the deadline, repeatedly asking them for proof of their former homes in New Orleans. He says in many cases, evacuees have either ignored the requests or haven't provided the needed documentation.

"We feel like we have scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed and have done everything possible in making contacts with these families to get them to prove continued assistance and they can't, so their benefits will be exhausted on August 31st and they will be responsible for their own rent starting on September 1st."

Some of those families likely qualify for what's known as the 408 Individual and Household assistance program that pays rent, but requires recertification every three months. FEMA's Philip Parks says he expects some won't qualify for the program and may need help from others.

"If we are unsuccessful in converting them from the 403 Emergency Sheltering to the 408 Individuals and Housing program, perhaps we can hand them off to another agency that can assist them with continuing housing or social services needs. That's our strategy."

Families already in the 408 program have until the end of October to recertify with FEMA and continue to recieve housing assistance. FEMA's Kerry Craft says the agency has made a real effort to notify evacuees about both of the upcoming deadlines.

"We've actually had strike teams that have gone out and put out media recertification packs at the apartment complexes or last known addresses of these individuals in Houston, requestion, contact us, give us the information that we need so that we can help you become eligible for additional rental assistance."

All FEMA rental assistance of evacuees ends in February of 2007, 18 months after the Katrina disaster.

FEMA #: 1-800-621-3362

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