Hurricane Victims and FEMA Funds
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
For homeowners displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, getting financial aid from FEMA can take a while. FEMA says it has taken steps to speed payouts for rental assistance, home repairs and replacement of lost or damaged property. NPR's Cheryl Corley talked with one family about how they plan to use their money.
CHERYL CORLEY reporting:
It was just a few months ago when Mary Jacobs, whose home is in New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood, was asking me about the condition of her house. She and her family were in Chicago. I was in New Orleans and called when I saw her home.
(Soundbite of phone call)
Ms. MARY JACOBS (New Orleans Resident): Is you able to see that big TV? I know that's full of water, too.
CORLEY: There's just stuff all over the place.
Ms. JACOBS: Could you estimate...
CORLEY: Jacobs and her husband Wallace Green(ph) returned to the city and their respective jobs early last month. Green works for the city maintaining the grounds near the city's canals. Jacobs is a cashier at a New Orleans hotel where the couple now lives. Jacobs says she tried to prepare herself for the worst and applied for FEMA assistance early.
Ms. JACOBS: My neighbor already done told me that I lost my house during the fl--you know, the hurricane. It was flooded. She told me how far it went under. I mean, you know, she told me how high the water had done got up there and I called FEMA. FEMA just gave me a number and then they had sent papers. And they never back with me though, but I called back and then I got a check within, like, two weeks' time. And then some of them had got another check but I never received no second check.
CORLEY: Like other hurricane victims, Jacobs received an emergency no-strings-attached payment of $2,000 from the government after Hurricane Katrina hit. So far, she has not received the $2,300 in rental assistance many others have, but Jacobs says the initial 2,000 helped the family pay living expenses.
Ms. JACOBS: I had paid off some of my bills. I--my check--didn't pay the house note because even though they totaled the home but I still have to back all those bills and bills just been coming and coming.
CORLEY: Jacobs says in some sense they're lucky. She had purchased both home and flood insurance for the house she bought nearly 12 years ago before she and Green married. She believes she'll qualify for the maximum benefit the government gives to people affected by the hurricanes, slightly more than $26,000. She wants to use the money to rebuild.
Ms. JACOBS: Because I know once the insurance and the mortgage take out what they have, I know it's not going to be enough.
(Soundbite of music)
CORLEY: Music blares from an open car while Mary's husband and his two brothers begin to gut the three-bedroom house. They carry out wrecked televisions, sodden couches and moldy clothing.
So were you able to salvage anything?
Mr. WALLACE GREEN (New Orleans Resident): Nothing. Couldn't get a pair of socks out of there or anything.
CORLEY: I know you were looking for your wedding picture. Have you...
Mr. GREEN: Yeah, I found them but there they go sitting right there all messed up. You can't see anything. That's the first thing I was looking for.
CORLEY: In front of the house where Jacobs conducts her own search, there are more pictures including a family photo of her, her children who are all grown now, and her first husband who died several years ago.
Ms. JACOBS: I said, `Now what you got that picture up there for?' He said, `Well, you couldn't make that one out.' Look how small I was. This is me and my little son, his diploma. I see--there he is there. And then my poor brother. This was his flag. He was in the service. Oh, God. But, like I say, I ain't worrying about nothing, Cheryl. There's always something better.
CORLEY: Jacobs bought her house for about $63,000. She says she's been told it would cost at least $50,000 to repair and elevate the house. She says contractors even wanted a hefty amount to gut the house.
Ms. JACOBS: Five thousand to get somebody to gut that house. That's a lot of money.
CORLEY: Jacobs says they'll also have to buy supplies to rebuild, new furniture, clothes and everything to start their lives over again; and Green says that's why the FEMA money is so important.
Mr. GREEN: Without FEMA we'll start all over from almost the 29th again if it--if FEMA don't help us. We will be in the same boat. We're depending on them to help us to try to rebuild our house.
CORLEY: The couple raced from their jobs to meet a FEMA inspector just a day later. They hope to hear back from the agency in a few days. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans.