Public Citizen: Litigation Group Forces FEMA to Restore Housing Assistance Benefits the Agency Denied to Evacuees
From Public Citizen Litigation Group....
Litigation Group Forces FEMA to Restore Housing Assistance Benefits the Agency Denied to Evacuees
In a landmark victory for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, a federal judge yesterday granted Public Citizen's request for a preliminary injunction against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to prevent the agency from terminating housing benefits for hurricane survivors without first adequately explaining its decisions.
Judge Richard J. Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the agency to restore short-term housing assistance to all evacuees whom FEMA found ineligible since Aug. 31, 2006, until they receive adequate explanation for the decision and time to appeal. In a further rebuke, FEMA was also required to pay the short-term housing assistance benefits that evacuees would have received between Sept. 1 and Nov. 30.
Public Citizen Litigation Group filed the emergency injunction on August 29 on behalf of four Katrina and Rita evacuees and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as part of a lawsuit to order FEMA to continue benefits for thousands of hurricane evacuees until it provided constitutionally sufficient notice of why their benefits were being denied, what steps, if any, they could take to fix the situation, and how they could appeal the decisions.
Termination letters sent by FEMA after March 2006 only informed evacuees of their ineligibility for benefits, followed by an obscure computer code or phrase representing the reason for that status. FEMA claimed that recipients could use an agency manual to make sense of the code, but the lawsuit asserted that these sources and even the agency's own employees could not provide comprehensible or adequate explanations. Although FEMA said it distributed the manual to evacuees shortly after the hurricanes and that the code book was available online, the agency's actions were clearly inadequate to address the needs of families displaced by such a severe natural disaster