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Katrina and Rita Victims at Risk of Eviction After FEMA Housing Benefits Terminated

Sept. 1, 2006

Katrina and Rita Victims at Risk of Eviction After FEMA Housing Benefits Terminated

Public Citizen Asks Federal Judge to Issue Temporary Restraining Order

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Continuing its efforts to protect the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Public Citizen asked a federal judge on Thursday to issue a court order to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from discontinuing essential housing benefits for thousands of otherwise homeless hurricane evacuees until FEMA adopts notice procedures that comply with the U.S. Constitution. According to FEMA, the benefits were set to expire Aug. 31.

At 7:30 p.m., Judge Leon of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., held a telephone hearing to consider the emergency motion filed by Public Citizen attorneys. The hearing lasted about 90 minutes. At the end of the hearing, the judge ordered FEMA to file a written response to the motion by September 11, and scheduled a hearing in open court for September 15 at 3:30 p.m. to consider whether to grant a preliminary injunction. This means the judge will not issue an injunction before then.  

However, the judge warned FEMA that – as to those families whose benefits were to be cut off as of yesterday – if the agency terminates their benefits and the judge later rules in favor of the evacuees, he may end up awarding them retroactive benefits. This was not a court order, but rather a suggestion that FEMA strongly consider voluntarily extending the benefits prior to the hearing.

“We are optimistic that the judge will order FEMA to comply with its constitutional obligation to provide evacuees with proper notice of its decisions,” said Public Citizen attorney Michael Kirkpatrick.

The lawsuit against FEMA, filed on Aug. 29, is brought on behalf of four hurricane survivors and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Public Citizen’s attorneys are joined in the lawsuit by co-counsel from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

To view the lawsuit, click here.

To view the motion, click here.