FEMA Expands Program to Help Hurricane Evacuees Move Home

October 17, 2007

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has expanded eligibility for a program to pay travel costs for Gulf Coast hurricane victims moving back home.

The one-time grant, still capped at $4,000, is now open to applicants who returned home any time after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. When FEMA first announced the details in August, the agency said it would limit the grants to cover moving expenses incurred between Feb. 1, 2006, and Feb. 29, 2008. The latter deadline is still in effect.

The program, originally available only to residents displaced from Mississippi and Louisiana, also was expanded to those returning to Alabama and Texas.

Diane Perry, a spokeswoman for FEMA’s New Orleans office, would not say whether authorities who control the program received complaints from potential applicants who found they could not receive benefits.

“In all fairness, we had to include everyone that was affected,” she said. “We’re going to fill in the gaps and include everybody.”

Remaining eligibility requirements remain unchanged.

The maximum grant comes with some restrictions, but the program will finance both reimbursements and advances for those who cannot afford to get themselves back to the areas they called home before the 2005 storms.

To be eligible for the assistance, a household must have been displaced more than 50 miles from its original residence and have qualified for the federal Individuals and Households Program.

That program’s $26,200 cap will be enforced in figuring the travel grants, so eligible households that have received more than $22,200 will see their travel grants reduced to keep their overall receipts under the limit.

Out-of-state residents who get the grants must move into Louisiana housing, but not motels, hotels or any domicile financed by FEMA. That means residents who are still accepting federal rental assistance would lose that benefit upon their return.

Applicants also must not have received moving aid from any other state, federal or nonprofit agency such as Red Cross, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the NOLA Bound program of the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps or the varying programs offered by the Housing Authority of New Orleans.

Reimbursable expenses include fare for travel by air, train, bus or rental car. Transportation of personal belongings, such as in commercially rented trucks or moving services, is eligible as well.

Whether applying for a reimbursement or an advance, applicants must provide actual receipts or official estimates.

Application information is available by calling 1-800-621-3362.

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