U.S. to Give $2,000 Debit Cards to Katrina Victims

9-7-05 - The federal government plans to begin doling out debit cards worth $2,000 each to adult victims of Hurricane Katrina, The Associated Press has learned.

Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff described the plan in a conference call with state officials Wednesday morning. The unprecedented cash card program initially will benefit stranded people who have been moved to major rescue centers such as the Houston Astrodome.

"They are going to start issuing debit cards, $2,000 per adult, today (Wednesday) at the Astrodome," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The cards could be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other essentials, according to a state official who was on the call and requested anonymity because the program has not been publicly announced.

In Boston, Gov. Mitt Romney said the cards will be offered "to people in shelters as well as people who are not in shelters but who have evacuated the area and need help." He said the hope is the cards will encourage people to leave shelters voluntarily.

It's unclear how much the debit card program will cost the government, but it's likely to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars since hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.