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Sens. Carper and Coburn Voice Concern Over FEMA's Efforts to Shelter Katrina Victims

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Location: Washington, DC


Sens. Carper and Coburn Voice Concern Over FEMA's Efforts to Shelter Katrina Victims

Senators Send Letter to FEMA Requesting Update on Housing Plans

Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), today sent a joint letter to FEMA expressing their concerns over recent reports about wasteful spending and poor planning in regards to housing of Katrina evacuees.

According to recent news reports, FEMA is currently spending millions of dollars every day to house as many as 200,000 evacuees in hotels around the country. The letter says that "while it is certainly reasonable to house evacuees in hotels on a short-term basis, this situation is simply unacceptable given that real estate and housing experts have pointed out that perhaps hundreds of thousands of suitable - and likely much more comfortable - apartments could be had throughout the Gulf Coast region for significantly less than what FEMA is spending on hotel rooms."

Sens. Coburn and Carper, chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security, also criticize FEMA's rental assistance program that is likely wasting millions of tax-payer dollars and, in some cases, not doing enough to help evacuees in certain parts of the country find suitable housing. According to the letter, "the fact that the amount of each evacuee's voucher is based on the national median rent rather than on the actual cost of renting an apartment in a given city means that evacuees in some cities might be getting much more money than they need while others in higher-cost cities are not getting enough money to find an apartment at all."

"FEMA owes it to Katrina evacuees and all American taxpayers to make this system better," the letter said. "We urge you to report to Congress on how you intend to transition evacuees from hotels to cheaper, better-quality housing options."

The full text of the letter follows:

October 19, 2005

The Honorable R. David Paulison, Acting Undersecretary
Bureau of Emergency Preparedness and Response
Department of Homeland Security
500 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to express our concerns about FEMA's strategy for transferring those made homeless by Hurricane Katrina into temporary housing.

We know that Hurricane Katrina was a truly unprecedented event. FEMA has never before been called upon to find shelter for so many people. However, based on recent news reports, it appears that your efforts to move Katrina evacuees from mass shelters to longer-term temporary housing has been needlessly costly and poorly planned.

We applaud FEMA for moving quickly in recent weeks to move Katrina evacuees out of shelters like the Astrodome and into better situations that offer families more privacy and a better opportunity to begin getting their lives back together. However, there have been a number of recent media reports articulating that FEMA is spending millions of dollars every day to house as many as 200,000 of these evacuees in hotels around the country. The total cost of this program, according to this morning's Washington Post will likely approach $200 million. Worse yet, FEMA has apparently not even been keeping track of the number of evacuees in hotels.

While it is certainly reasonable to house evacuees in hotels on a short-term basis, this situation is simply unacceptable given that real estate and housing experts have pointed out that perhaps hundreds of thousands of suitable -and likely much more comfortable - apartments could be had throughout the Gulf Coast region for significantly less than what FEMA is spending on hotel rooms.

In addition, the Post recently reported that FEMA's rental assistance program is likely wasting millions of dollars and, in some cases, not doing much to help evacuees in certain parts of the country find suitable housing. The fact that the amount of each evacuee's voucher is based on the national median rent rather than on the actual cost of renting an apartment in a given city means that evacuees in some cities might be getting much more assistance then they need while others in higher-cost cities are not getting enough money to find an apartment at all.

It has been suggested that the solution to the housing crisis in the Gulf might be to place evacuees in trailers or some other form of manufactured housing. But we have heard reports that FEMA is buying many of its trailers straight off the lot at retail prices. We have also heard that there are thousands of trailers sitting around unoccupied in vacant lots.

FEMA owes it to Katrina evacuees and all American taxpayers to make this system better. We urge you to report to Congress on how you intend to transition evacuees from hotels to cheaper, better-quality housing options. If the Post report is indeed accurate, we urge you to work with us to find a way to ensure that FEMA rental assistance vouchers give evacuees what they need to put roofs over their families' heads.

Thank you in advance for your attention to these important issues.

Sincerely,

Senator Tom Coburn Senator Tom Carper

Chairman Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Federal Financial Subcommittee on Federal Financial
Management, Government Information, Management, Government Information,
and International Security and International Security

http://carper.senate.gov/test/release.cfm?type=press&id=247468

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