Who'll Pay the Rent?

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Many of the folks who washed up in Reunion Arena after Hurricane Katrina could wind up displaced again.

Hurricane Katrina displaced them once, now a failure to send in the proper paperwork could force thousands of evacuee families living in Texas to move again. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials said Tuesday around 19,000 evacuee households statewide must send paperwork and rent receipts to the agency by the end of the month to requalify for a program that pays the rent for those made homeless by the storm that devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi coast last August. So far, most of those eligible for continued help haven't sent in the forms.

FEMA plans to send "strike teams" into apartment complexes in the Houston area, where around 90 percent of the evacuee households are located, to find those who neglected to return forms mailed out by FEMA. (Victims of Hurricane Rita, which struck Texas, are also covered by the program.) Every three months, evacuees receiving assistance must send in receipts and info about their long-term plans to qualify for aid for the next three month. Those who received checks for rent through the end of July face a deadline next week to re-up for the program for the next three months. FEMA itself won't be evicting anyone, since the money goes to private landlords, but someone's gotta pay the rent, or the constables could come knocking. It's uncertain how many Dallas-area households are facing the July 31 deadline, but around 1,100 face a similar deadline at the end of August.

"These are families who are eligible for assistance, and we want to help them help themselves," said Bob Bennett, chief of staff and special assistant in the Texas Transitional Recovery Office in Austin. "In addition to the 19,ooo or so families coming due on July 31st, an additional 12,ooo or so families on a June, July, August three-month cycle have also failed to contact us, and we're within 36 days of having to end the benefits for that group."

Call FEMA's helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA for more info. Oh, and those massages, engagement rings and liquor bills? They're not covered. Well, they're not supposed to be. --Patrick Williams


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