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Public Citizen Dismisses FEMA Lawsuit After Securing Relief for Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Jan. 31, 2007

Public Citizen Dismisses FEMA Lawsuit After Securing Relief for Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

More Than 1,000 Households Were Determined Eligible for Housing Assistance Benefits After Legal Challenge Forced FEMA to Review Cases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After winning continued housing assistance for more than 1,000 households of evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Public Citizen voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit late Tuesday against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Public Citizen sued FEMA on behalf of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) and hurricane evacuees because the agency had cut their benefits in August 2006 without providing constitutionally sufficient notice of the reasons that their benefits were denied and what steps they could take to restore them.

Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that FEMA was required to provide clearer notices of the reasons for, and an opportunity to appeal, denials of eligibility for further housing assistance.

FEMA was required to send better notices of the reasons for denial of eligibility for temporary housing assistance benefits to more than 4,000 evacuee households. As a result of significant judicial pressure, FEMA quickly adjudicated the resulting appeals, and at least 1,069 evacuee households have had their status changed from ineligible to eligible because of the case. The benefits for these households have been extended through August 2007.

“We are pleased to declare victory for hurricane evacuees, who were not only victimized by these natural disasters, but also by their own government’s intransigence and incompetence in providing relief,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.

Although size of the household will determine the amount of benefits, the average sum that the evacuees will receive is approximately $750 per month. FEMA is required to continue to adjudicate any remaining appeals that may come in, although it is unlikely that there will be significant change in the status of the remaining evacuees.

“Despite the government’s promises to care for the hurricane victims they failed to protect during the storms, thousands of evacuees were literally left out in the cold by FEMA,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, a lawyer for Public Citizen who litigated the case. “Our lawsuit has held the agency accountable for its failures and resulted in about $6 million in additional benefits to flow to the hurricane survivors.”

To read more about the case, click here.