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FEMA announces numerous funding initiatives for evacuees

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

The federal government today announced funding on several levels to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina who evacuated to Texas, and to assist the state in expenditures for providing aid and shelter for the evacuees.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today authorized Texas cities and counties to pay travel expenses for evacuees who are seeking more permanent housing with friends and family in cities around the country. FEMA has promised 100 percent reimbursement to cities and counties to cover those costs.

Additionally, FEMA officials said they would reimburse Texas cities and counties for 100 percent of the costs to pay for temporary housing, such as apartments and hotels, for 12-18 months for the evacuees.

Starting Wednesday, FEMA will begin issuing debit cards in the amount of $2,000 to evacuees to assist them with paying for essential expenses, such as food, clothing and shelter.

Texas is also set up to receive up to $75 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide jobs for evacuees, including work assisting in the cleanup and recovery efforts associated with the storm. Some $23 million is being released immediately to the Texas Workforce Commission to facilitate this project.

While more than 1,700 Texas first responders remain assigned to Louisiana to assist officials there in the aftermath of the storm, hundreds of Louisiana schoolchildren found their way into the Texas public schools after the long Labor Day holiday. The governor's office reports that five school districts in the Houston area have begun enrolling school-aged children who arrived at the Astrodome. Initial estimates were that 6,000 to 8,000 children could be enrolled. Texas is currently working through capacity and transportation issues while trying to provide additional teachers for those schools that have a large influx of new students. The Texas Education Agency is coordinating most of those efforts.

The Governor's Office listed the following update on services and actions in place in Texas relative to the evacuation of nearly 250,000 Gulf Coast residents into Texas.

Health and Safety Measures

Gov. Rick Perry ordered Texas Commissioner of Health Dr. Eduardo Sanchez to develop a statewide plan to address the short-term and long-term health needs of Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Texas.

Perry, through Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw, has assured local officials that the state will provide additional Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to supplement local law enforcement officials to whatever extent they need.

To date, 2,200 National Guard troops and 200 Texas State Guard troops have been called up and deployed to support operations in Louisiana and Texas.

Through FEMA, Texas has requested that the 5th Army at Fort Sam Houston provide assistance for shelter operations in San Antonio.

Efforts to secure more permanent housing

Perry has issued an Executive Order suspending both the state and local hotel/motel taxes for the next 60 days for Louisiana evacuees. In some cities, that could mean as much as a 17 percent reduction in the costs.

The IRS has approved the waiver request submitted by Perry that will allow an estimated 18,000 vacant income eligible housing units to be used by Louisianans displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

State officials also are working with the Texas Apartment Association to identify other vacant apartments that could be used for long-term Louisiana residents.

Additional Assistance

Perry has activated the OneStar Foundation to act as a volunteer/donation clearinghouse for anyone in the country wishing to donate cash and non-cash items, food or volunteer.

Some 400 hundred phone lines have been established to handle calls. 1-800-707-6768 or OneStar Foundation

The Texas Workforce Commission will assist with Unemployment Insurance Claims and with helping evacuees who want to work find jobs.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board is assisting students with enrolling in Texas colleges and universities. College students displaced by Hurricane Katrina will be eligible for in-state tuition rates at Texas colleges and universities.

The Health and Human Services Commission is helping identify food stamp eligible individuals and those who need prescription drug support.

More news links and relief effort resources from KERA

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