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The Storm After the Storm


In July, we reported that, after a series of deadlines, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was on the verge of pulling the plug on housing assistance to thousands of Katrina evacuees, including approximately 6,000 in Texas. Indeed, FEMA estimates in a December 3 Washington Post story stated that by October 19, of the 720,590 households nationwide once afforded rental assistance, less than a scant 5 percent (33,889 families) remained eligible.

Into the fray came U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon of Washington, D.C., who ruled in a late-November suit brought by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now that FEMA must reinstate housing assistance — and pay back rent — for an ACORN-estimated 11,000 affected families. Further, he wrote, the embattled agency must work to improve what he called an insufficient and  “Kafkaesque” system of application and notification that, in some cases, he said, gave explanations as nebulous as “other” for the denial of benefits. (Leon’s comparison and tone leaves little room for doubt as to precisely who, in his estimation, is the interpolated “giant cockroach” in this situation.) FEMA appealed the ruling on December 5; Leon shot back on December 12, ordering the agency to devise a plan for aid renewal and back-pay and saying, “Tell FEMA that I’m expecting them to get going on this. Like immediately.”

All this back-and-forth may be for naught, though, if the affected people aren’t informed — which, says Rolando Morales, director of Corazón Ministries at Travis Park United Methodist Church downtown, may well be the case. Corazón operated the San Antonio’s Katrina I.D. Recovery Program, which was disbanded around September, but is in the process of possibly starting up again in January.

“Some of them don’t know `about the ruling`,” Morales told the Current. “The population we’re dealing with isn’t going to sit down and read a newspaper, and if they’re homeless, they don’t have access to radio, TV — and they certainly don’t have access to the internet, other than the libraries.”

Morales says Corazón does what it can, but he says far more is needed.

“It would be helpful if there was a more structured, organized attempt to notify people, because, especially people who lost their housing or became homeless — well, they’re not going to connect anywhere.”

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