FEMA to End Hotel Payments for Evacuees

An estimated 53,000 families evacuated from the Gulf Coast are still living in hotels, on the federal government's tab. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that as of Dec. 1, it will no longer pay for the hotel rooms, but will work with people to find more permanent housing.

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The federal government wants to stop paying the hotel bills of hurricane survivors. The Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will end reimbursements for hotels beginning December 1st. The agency says its goal is to work with evacuees to find more permanent housing. Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

FEMA estimates that about 53,000 families are still in hotels and motels across the country, weeks after being forced from their homes by the two hurricanes. FEMA director David Paulison said in a statement that that's too many people, and his agency wants to place these evacuees in more permanent housing before the holidays.

FEMA never intended hotels and motels to be used for long-term housing, and the bills are mounting. The government has spent more than $250 million so far on these costs. Officials are now trying to identify alternatives, such as apartments and travel trailers, to house these hurricane victims. Paulison says such housing is readily available around the country, but housing advocates question whether enough spaces can be found for so many people in such a short period of time.

Houston Mayor Bill White, whose city now has about 19,000 hurricane evacuees living in hotels, has asked FEMA to extend the deadline. He said in a statement yesterday that his city has moved more evacuees out of hotels than any other city. He added, quote, "We encourage those new to it to ask us, not tell us, how to do it."

FEMA has already said it will temporarily waive the December 1st deadline for about 12,000 families living in hotels in Louisiana and Mississippi because those states face such a severe housing shortage. Agency officials told reporters yesterday that they're trying to contact evacuees located in hotels across the country about the new deadline and to work with them on finding somewhere else to go.

FEMA is currently housing more than 26,000 families in travel trailers and mobile homes, and plans to make many more available. But it's been slow going. Convenient sites are difficult to find, and there are not always jobs nearby where evacuees can work. The government is also providing limited rental assistance to help evacuees find more permanent housing. Officials say evacuees can use these funds to pay for hotel rooms on their own if they like, but that's not recommended because the money will go much further if used to pay rent on an apartment or a house. The agency says it's already provided $1.2 billion in transitional housing assistance to about a half-million households affected by the hurricanes.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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