People who sought refuge outside the 10 states that absorbed most of the evacuees from hurricanes Rita and Katrina may remain in hotels at the government's expense while their applications for rental assistance are processed, officials announced Saturday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to pay for an estimated 42,000 hotel rooms in 47 states and the District. In the 10 states that took in most of the homeless evacuees, FEMA recently pledged to continue paying their hotel bills until Jan. 7, after its previous Dec. 1 deadline was met with widespread criticism.
Outside the 10 states, however, about 2,000 families still faced a Dec. 15 hotel assistance cutoff. But FEMA said Saturday it will extend the hotel program to Jan. 7 for those evacuees who are eligible for cash aid but have yet to apply for or receive it.
In those cases, evacuees must call FEMA, starting today, to receive authorization if they need to stay in hotels beyond Dec. 15, said Donna Dannels, FEMA's acting deputy director for recovery. The toll-free number is 800-621-3362.
Meanwhile, officials in the 10 states that have the greatest numbers of evacuees had to file plans with FEMA outlining how they will help them move out of hotels and into trailers, mobile homes or apartments until they find permanent homes. FEMA has approved the plans of nine: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas. Georgia's application is being processed, FEMA spokeswoman Natalie Rule said.
Evacuees in those states that have been approved need only inform the hotels where they are lodged if they intend to stay past Dec. 15, FEMA said.
FEMA has spent about $325 million on its hotel housing program since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, followed by Rita on Sept. 24. At the program's height, FEMA was housing 85,000 families in hotels.