Houston Evacuees Receive Debit Cards

In Houston, a pilot program has delivered debit cards in the amount of $2,000 each to hurricane evacuees. Some have never had bank accounts.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Thousands of evacuees in Houston did get their debit cards yesterday. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has that story.

(Soundbite of voices)

MANDALIT del BARCO reporting:

Here in Houston, hurricane and flood survivors staying at the Astrodome complex had applied for FEMA assistance all week. They stood in orderly lines to get their $2,000 debit cards. Vanessa Lewis and Keanna Jones say they're grateful for the assistance.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's a blessing.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's a blessing.

Unidentified Woman #1: It's a help. It's a help. It's to get us a head start on what we have to do for ourselves.

DEL BARCO: Shaughn Graves says the card came just in time. He's found a job in Houston and is ready to move into a new apartment.

What are you gonna do with the money?

Mr. SHAUGHN GRAVES: Just basically fix my house up for me and my son. See, my mama--she passed away in the storm. So, you know--so it's just us two right now.

DEL BARCO: Some survivors have started spending their new money on food, clothes and cell phones to contact relatives who are scattered throughout the country. Many who lived in New Orleans, like 20-year-old Edward Anderson, say they've never before had a debit card.

Mr. EDWARD ANDERSON: Never had a bank account, and then there's--you know, it's to manage your money. I guess that's a good thing.

DEL BARCO: You never had a bank account before?

Mr. ANDERSON: No. Shoe boxes. Shoe boxes. Stashes, you know. But this is gonna really put you in a position where you could, you know, get with the banks and, you know, put your money in a safe place. Stuff like that happens. I mean, you think about it, how much money's floating around in New Orleans, you know? People that just, `Oh, man, I had this money in this spot.'

DEL BARCO: For evacuees with bank accounts, FEMA plans to direct deposit relief money or mail them checks. But FEMA hasn't said how it will get relief money to survivors outside of Texas who don't have bank accounts. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Houston.

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