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Texas state agencies continue to respond with aid, support for evacuees

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Texas state agencies Monday continued to offer aid and support to evacuees in the state fleeing from the damage and destruction along the Gulf Coast from Hurricane Katrina.

While Texas has been granted a waiver by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for a temporary suspension of the Housing Tax Credit Program that will allow the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to provide rental housing for homeless evacuees in the state, the state's Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) today announced release of $1 million to rural Texas cities and counties providing shelter for many of those homeless families.

Although the three major cities in Texas - Dallas, Houston and San Antonio - are housing the majority of Hurricane Katrina evacuees from Gulf Coast states, many smaller Texas communities also have opened up shelters for evacuees. These communities are struggling to provide for the needs of these individuals, according to ORCA officials.

"ORCA is prepared to offer emergency disaster relief funds to rural towns for the improvement of public facilities for use as shelters," said William M. Jeter, III, chair of ORCA's Executive Committee. Jeter said many smaller communities have opened community facilities, local government buildings, churches and schools to the evacuees and ORCA is providing a "swift and effective response" to meet the needs of those communities.

Shelters can qualify for a maximum of $50,000 on a first-come, first-serve basis for their renovations and improvements. Priority will be given to shelters within planning regions contiguous to the Texas-Louisiana border.

"This new emergency assistance program was developed in response to the urgent and unprecedented need for long-term shelter facilities in rural communities," said Charles Stone, ORCA executive director. Some of the projects that might be funded from the grants are water and wastewater improvements, plumbing, restroom facilities, electrical and HVAC. The funds will come from ORCA's Texas Community Development Program, which is targeted at infrastructure, public facility improvements and planning and capacity building activities.

The IRS waiver for housing needs through TDHCA for evacuees could make thousands of privately owned, affordable housing rental units available to displaced families from the affected areas of the Gulf Coast. The agency originally identified some 7,000 such units in the state that could be made immediately available.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) announced today that it has created two toll-free hotlines to assist displaced workers from the storm-ravaged areas. One hotline is aimed at assisting displaced Louisiana workers filing Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) claims, while the other is for employers seeking to hire the displaced workers.

The toll free number for displaced workers to call regarding DUA assistance is 1-800-818-7811. While claim takers will take calls from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, TWC officials says the hours from 3-7 p.m. generally provide faster service.

Some 10,500 workers filed claims with TWC through Monday, with almost 5,000 of those over the long holiday weekend. Those figures are expected to increase dramatically in the coming days and weeks.

A second hotline was established because of the overwhelming number of employers who called TWC to offer job listings for displaced workers. That toll free number, 1-800-695-6879, will take calls from employers seeking to hire displaced Louisiana workers. The line will be answered weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. TWC workers will seek to place available workers with jobs for which they are qualified. The agency also will compile contact information for employers whose businesses operate in both Louisiana and other states and can rehire workers from the affected areas to work in their other locations.

On-site workforce centers are being established at many evacuee shelters.

More news links and relief effort resources from KERA

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