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Public Citizen Asks Judge to Require FEMA to Submit a Plan to Comply With Recent Court Order to Assist Hurricane Evacuees

Dec. 5, 2006

Public Citizen Asks Judge to Require FEMA to Submit a Plan to Comply With Recent Court Order to Assist Hurricane Evacuees

Agency Has Not Responded to Court Ruling Requiring FEMA to “Immediately” Restore Housing Benefits to Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today asked a federal judge to force the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stop dragging its feet and provide a plan to comply with the court’s order last week to restore housing assistance benefits to thousands of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In a landmark victory for hurricane survivors, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the agency on Nov. 29 to “immediately” restore short-term housing assistance to all evacuees whom FEMA found ineligible for continued assistance until they receive adequate explanation for the decision and time to appeal. FEMA was also required to pay the short-term housing assistance benefits that evacuees would have received between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30. To date, FEMA has done nothing.

Since the court’s ruling, Public Citizen has contacted FEMA’s lawyers at the Department of Justice each business day, but has gotten no response from the agency about the actions it will take to assist hurricane evacuees. Meanwhile, the evacuees must pay another month’s rent without the assistance to which they may be legally entitled.

Public Citizen filed a lawsuit on Aug. 29, 2006, on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and hurricane evacuees. The organizations asked the court to order FEMA to continue benefits for thousands of evacuees until the agency provided constitutionally sufficient notice of why their benefits were being denied, what steps, if any, they could take to fix the situation and how they could appeal the decisions. 

Denial letters sent by FEMA informed evacuees only of their ineligibility for benefits, followed by an obscure computer code or phrase representing the reason for that status but with no explanation of the code or why the decision had been made.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin serves as co-counsel with Public Citizen for ACORN and for the four individual plaintiffs, all of whom now reside in Texas.

To read the motion, click here.

To read the decision, lawsuit and other supporting documents, click here.