FEMA in Hot Water


FEMA in Hot Water 11-30-2006

According to the Public Citizens Lawsuit Yesterday, Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, granted the organizations request for a preliminary injunction against Federal Emergency Management Agency to prevent that agency from terminating housing benefits for hurricane survivors without first adequately explaining its decisions.

He ordered the agency to restore short-term housing assistance to all evacuees whom FEMA found ineligible since Aug. 31, 2006, until they receive adequate explanation for the decision and time to appeal. In a further rebuke, FEMA was also required to pay the short-term housing assistance benefits that evacuees would have received between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30.

“FEMA’s intransigence in the face of such overwhelming tragedy and need was truly stunning,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “Now victims of these horrible natural disasters will have the tools they need to receive the assistance that they are entitled to.”

In the face of the worst natural disaster that the states have ever seen, I still can’t believe that officials and the Bush administration had the guts/cowardice to react so badly when televised evidence was so much in evidence as to what was going on.

“It is unfortunate, if not incredible, that FEMA and its counsel could not devise a sufficient notice system to spare these beleaguered evacuees the added burden of federal litigation to vindicate their constitutional rights,” Leon wrote in the decision.

The judge found that the Katrina evacuees’ “interest in continued housing assistance… could not be more fundamental and overarching than it is here” and that FEMA’s procedures for notifying evacuees of the reasons for denying them assistance fell short of constitutionally minimum standards. He concluded that FEMA’s notice procedures were “unconstitutionally vague and uninformative,” and described them as “Kafkaesque” and “cryptic.”

“This decision is a clear vindication of the evacuees’ entitlement to critical housing benefits that Congress guaranteed them in the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act,” said Michael Kirkpatrick, an attorney for Public Citizen.

The hurricane actually hit Florida on August 26, and left nine people dead in an area that knows what to do in a bad storm. As the storm moved in to the Gulf of Mexico it gathered strength, and the meteorologists began to speculate Katrina could hit the beaches of Louisiana and Mississipi with 25’ waves. Other experts warned that winds could reach Category 4 status with winds as much as 130 mph. Not only that, but, NASA had seen the storm coming on their instruments and radar screens. Were they told to keep quiet? No one will ever know that unless someone talks about it. At this point they have not done so. There are still agencies that I believe knew about the storm and its potential disaster capabilities and I still want to know why they did not speak up!

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