Deadline for Katrina Victims' Hotel Aid Extended

A federal judge in New Orleans rules that the government must pay for hotel housing needed by Hurricane Katrina victims until Feb. 7; the previous deadline was Jan. 7. The judge said the extension will help ensure that people have enough time to find other aid.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Victims of Hurricane Katrina will be able to stay in hotels until early February. A federal judge in New Orleans, Judge Stanwood Duval, ordered that extension today. The deadline to move out had been set for January. In this segment, we'll talk with an evacuee currently living in a hotel in Arkansas and a neighborhood housing director in Austin, Texas. First, here's NPR's Pam Fessler with details on today's ruling.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

It's not clear exactly how many people will be affected by the change. Right now about 40,000 evacuee families are still living in hotels across the country. Initially FEMA said it would stop paying hotel bills on December 1st, but after a flood of complaints, that deadline was changed to January 7th for most evacuees. This past weekend, FEMA effectively extended the deadline for everyone else. Today, Judge Duval, ruling in a class-action suit brought on behalf of hurricane victims, said the evacuees need even more time. He said those still waiting for housing assistance can stay up until February 7th and that, in any event, no one could be evicted before January 7th. Howard Godnick is one of the attorneys who filed the suit.

Mr. HOWARD GODNICK (Attorney): Those folks are suffering. And at least those who are in hotels and were facing an imminent eviction by FEMA out into the cold streets of whatever cities they were evacuated to, they now have a reprieve.

FESSLER: FEMA officials have promised repeatedly not to put evacuees out in the cold, but Godnick says it's not clear where they would go. A FEMA spokeswoman says the agency is reviewing the court's ruling and will continue to help evacuees find alternate housing as quickly as possible. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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