New Orleans A federal judge ruled Monday that a program that is putting tens of thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees up in hotels must be extended until Feb. 7 - a month beyond the cutoff date set by FEMA.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval said victims must be given more time in hotels because FEMA cannot guarantee that all applications for other aid, such as rent assistance or trailers, will be processed by the agency's Jan. 7 deadline.
The temporary restraining order was part of a class-action lawsuit filed in November by advocates for hurricane victims.
Attorneys pressing the lawsuit had argued that sticking to a January deadline would mean homelessness for thousands of evacuees.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to pick up the tab for about 41,000 hotel rooms in 47 states and the District of Columbia at an estimated cost so far of about $350 million. In addition, the agency has provided rental assistance to more than 500,000 families who lost their homes to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said.
The agency had set a Dec. 1 deadline for ending the hotel program but extended it to Dec. 15 after widespread criticism. In addition, 10 states - Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas - were allowed to apply for extensions that effectively stretched the deadline to Jan. 7 for most evacuees.
Duval ruled that those who have not yet received FEMA aid to rent an apartment or move into a trailer can stay in their government-paid hotel rooms until two weeks after their application is approved or denied. But he said everyone will have to be out by Feb. 7 at the latest, unless FEMA decides to extend the deadline again.
Duval noted that even those who have FEMA rent money in hand are finding it difficult to find housing in some areas.
"FEMA cannot assure the court that it will process all or most of the applications of the persons living in hotels and-or motels by Jan. 7, 2006," Duval wrote. "The court is convinced that many persons in the putative class will be irreparably harmed by FEMA's admitted inability to process the pending applications."
Related content about the Hurricane Katrina aftermath
- 6News video: KU group makes toys for Katrina victims (02-12-06)
- 6News video: Group organizing trip to aid New Orleans hurricane victims (02-12-06)
- 6News Lawrence's complete Hurricane Katrina coverage »»
- Delayed response to disaster irks Lawrence native (03-06-06)
- Katrina underscores public's frustration with government (03-06-06)
- Video: Bush was warned before Katrina (03-02-06)
- Evacuees check out, protest as FEMA hotel deadline passes (03-02-06)
- Complete coverage of Hurricane Katrina »»
- Photo Gallery: Hurricane Helpers
- Photo Gallery: Hurricane Katrina
- On the Street: Do you think FEMA could handle an emergency if it happened here? (09-13-05)
- On the Street: What is your opinion of the president's response to the Hurricane Katrina emergency? (09-08-05)
- On the Street: What should people do locally to help hurricane victims? (09-02-05)