FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
Congressman William Jefferson handily won a run-off election this weekend. That's something we'll talk about later on the Roundtable. He'll begin his ninth term in January. But Jefferson got his work cut out for him. Life seems to be getting harder for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. In fact, a federal judge rebuked the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA for stopping some families' rental assistance.
FEMA also plans to close several trailer parks in Baton Rouge. To date, more than 100,000 families still live in government trailers. Ms. Marguerite Doyle Johnston(ph) of the Lower Ninth Ward is still in hers.
I met Ms. Marguerite last August when I visited New Orleans for Katrina's one-year anniversary. I recently caught up with her to see if FEMA was still helping her make ends meet.
Ms. MARGUERITE DOYLE JOHNSTON: After we got the trailer, FEMA said no, we're not paying, you know, any more rental assistance.
CHIDEYA: So let me just get this straight again. You owned a house, it was flooded out by Katrina. Then you moved into a rental home, and then when you got your FEMA trailer, FEMA stopped paying for the rental apartment.
Ms. JOHNSTON: Right.
CHIDEYA: So at this point, are you getting any money from FEMA?
Ms. JOHNSTON: No. As you know, my home was a three-generation home like I told you while you were here. I was insured, but I had the wrong insurance. I had a four bedroom - living room, kitchen, then dining room and a studio. In May - I think it was May - FEMA said that my content was only worth $5000. And that was it.
CHIDEYA: So, Ms. Marguerite, you had been helping out other people in your neighborhood. How do you make ends if you're not getting a check from FEMA? Did you get your job back? What are you doing these days?
Ms. JOHNSTON: No. I'm going to tell you. It is by the grace of God and I stand on that. I walk on God's feet everyday. What has happened is my daughter lives in Baton Rouge. She sends money to me. Also my husband passed, and I get his annuity. There's nothing left for nothing extra. You know, it's just by the grace of God that we continue to keep on keeping on.
CHIDEYA: What bills are you paying now? Are you paying for the trailer that you live in?
Ms. JOHNSTON: No. We have to take Entergy. My Entergy bill in a one-bedroom trailer - one bedroom, kitchen and living room, like $500.
CHIDEYA: So that's the power cost. Now, you don't have to pay for the trailer, but has FEMA talked about taking it away?
Ms. JOHNSTON: Well, here's how it goes. You would think that my lease with FEMA started May of '06, it didn't. It started August the 29th of '05. We weren't even in the trailer, the hurricane had hit. We weren't even in New Orleans. And you have 18 months. So we have that pending over our heads.
CHIDEYA: So, so -
Ms. JOHNSTON: I don't understand why FEMA want to take the trailers after 18 months when they have people that - Florida gets hit every year. There's people who've been in trailers in Florida over 10 years since Hurricane Andrew.
CHIDEYA: So basically what you're saying to me is that they put your name down for a trailer, starting right after Katrina, but you didn't actually move in for months later. And at some point, they're going to take it away from you.
Ms. JOHNSTON: Right.
CHIDEYA: When are they going to try to take it away from you?
Ms. JOHNSTON: On our 18th month and I still don't have a house.
CHIDEYA: Now, while Ms. Marguerite Doyle Johnston says she won't be ready to give up her trailer in April, she's still in a better position than a friend down the street. He was a teacher with New Orleans' public schools before Katrina. Now, he can't find work and could lose the roof over his head, according to Ms. Marguerite.
Ms. JOHNSTON: Matter of fact, he got a letter and I think he's on pins and needles trying to figure out what's the next step.
CHIDEYA: For him, is it the rental assistance?
Ms. JOHNSTON: Yes, it's the rental assistance.
CHIDEYA: What do you think he's going to do? I mean, like you said he's anxious. What do you think he is going to do if he can't get that money?
Ms. JOHNSTON: The thing about him is he's a schoolteacher. And the school system here is like getting kick - they then kicked all the teachers out. So if you have been a teacher all these many years, say 15 years, what else is there that you know how to do?
CHIDEYA: Now, did you hear about the - all the lawsuits where - first, there was the order for FEMA to extend some payments and then FEMA said, no, we're going to challenge that in court. Have you guys been following that?
Ms. JOHNSTON: Right. We have. We don't have no choice. We don't have no choice because it's a struggle on a day-to-day basis because we never know. We know nothing until it happened.
CHIDEYA: What do you think will happen to your neighborhood if FEMA cuts off the rental payments, starts taking away the trailers? What's going to happen to you and the people in your neighborhood?
Ms. JOHNSTON: Well, first of all, people in my neighborhood are going to have to leave the city to go elsewhere to find employment. Then, we're limited with housing here. So the only thing we can do is go to somewhere where we can live because it's also because the news have portrayed us as being all bad people. But we're not all bad people.
Some mayors have gotten together from Texas and ready to kick people out of Texas. And I think it's because we're black. People feel as though we are all lazy. We're not. I used to own my own company. My company went under with the water. And I don't have the money to bring it back.
CHIDEYA: Well, Ms. Marguerite, we wish you the best and we know that you're a pillar for a lot of folks in your community. So we want to talk to you again, soon. Thank you so much.
Ms. JOHNSTON: You're welcome, baby.
CHIDEYA: Ms. Marguerite Doyle Johnston is a lifelong resident of New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward.
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