Katrina Victims ask to Keep Hotel Program

11-29-05 - Lawyers for Hurricane Katrina victims asked a federal court Monday to keep alive a program that lodges those displaced by the storm in hotels at government expense.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency originally set a Dec. 1 deadline for ending the program. But, stung by critics who said that would result in the eviction of thousands of poor, extended the deadline to Dec. 15 for evacuees nationwide.

FEMA also said 10 states _ Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas _ could apply for extensions lasting until Jan. 7.

That will still be too soon for many, said Howard Godnick, one of the attorneys representing close to two dozen plaintiffs in the case.

"They're going to put them out even if they have yet to provide them with any of the temporary housing benefits they are to receive," Godnick said.

Godnick said attorneys have asked the federal court based in New Orleans for an order forcing FEMA to keep the hotel program going.

FEMA spokeswoman Nicol Andrews said she could not comment on specifics in the lawsuit. However, she did say that the end of the program will not necessarily mean eviction for Katrina victims.

"Anyone who is properly registered with FEMA and is eligible to receive federal assistance will have the tools and the funding they need to get temporary housing," she said.

FEMA is paying for nearly 50,000 hotel rooms for hurricane victims at an estimated $3 million a day. The hotel program has cost the agency at least $300 million since Katrina hit Aug. 29, followed by Rita on Sept. 24. At its height, FEMA was housing 85,000 families in hotels.

Godnick said his request for an order to keep the program going is the latest filing in a lawsuit accusing FEMA of wrongfully denying housing benefits to Katrina victims. There are 23 named plaintiffs, and Godnick said he is seeking class action status on behalf of all victims who have been denied aid.