Thursday, November 30, 2006

Federal Judge Orders FEMA to Resume Payments to Katrina Victims

FEMA Ordered to Resume Katrina Payments


WASHINGTON (Nov. 29) - A federal judge ordered the Bush administration Wednesday to immediately resume making housing benefits available to thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon said the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to adequately explain why it ended the 18-month housing assistance program for people who lost their homes in the 2005 storm.

Leon's ruling was issued as a temporary injunction requested by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which filed suit in August saying FEMA had violated the rights of Katrina victims by abruptly stopping housing payments.

The judge ordered the federal agency to explain its reasoning and allow the displaced hurricane victims to appeal its decision. While that process goes forward, the judge said, FEMA must keep making payments and must pay storm victims for two months of housing since the decision to stop the program.

"It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights," Leon wrote.

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, FEMA said it would pay rental assistance to local governments, with the money to be used to pay landlords to cover the costs of housing the thousands of people displaced by the storms.

In February, FEMA switched to a stricter program and told thousands of families they were ineligible for relief or had to reapply for assistance. In some cases, their homes had been found to be usable, the agency said. In others, the houses were not their primary residences.

But the letters FEMA sent to the evacuees were confusing and sometimes contradictory and didn't explain why the benefits were being cut, Leon said.

11/29/06 16:17 EST

No comments: