Keeping up with the mega-millions and billions in aid for refugees displaced by Hurricane Katrina is like nailing down a spilled tractor-trailer load of mercury as it skitters across the highway. Two recent announcements have left me scratching my head. On the surface, it seems to make sense, but the numbers leave me with questions.
On the plus front, a recent press release from Tennessee government via Lola Potter, reads that "evacuees and landlords should not be alarmed by a FEMA form letter":
"NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee officials say property owners renting to hurricane evacuees should follow new directives from the federal government, but they nor evacuees should fear that leases will be broken without notice. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent new messages – through a contractor, Corporate Lodging - telling property owners who are leasing interim shelter units (apartments) for evacuees to sign up for a new program for future payments.
FEMA has not indicated how many of the 3,700 individuals or families now housed in interim sheltering in Tennessee might be eligible for the new program. Over 1,600 are housed in Memphis, 900 in Davidson and surrounding counties, over 250 in Hamilton and surrounding counties, 302 in Knox County, and over 100 in Northeast Tennessee.
"For now, we are not making any changes in the program that provides apartment housing for evacuees in Tennessee,” said Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz, whose department is responsible for statewide coordination of evacuee housing in Tennessee. Landlords are now signed up for Tennessee’s program – and although we recommend they follow the new federal instructions – they will remain in our program until we work through this difficulty with FEMA.”
Goetz said evacuees should not be alarmed that they may be asked to leave their housing without the 30-day notice assured by FEMA – and property owners should not worry about losing rental income.
In a February 27 letter to FEMA, Tennessee officials reminded FEMA that the agency has an obligation to honor its commitment to the State to reimburse the expense of the leases until we can provide the 30 day advance notification to the lessors. In a letter to the State one week earlier, FEMA indicated all leases ending February 28, 2006, would no longer be paid by FEMA. However, Tennessee negotiated an automatic month-to-month renewal clause after the initial lease term, unless and until the lessor is provided with thirty days notice of intent to abandon the lease. Tennessee officials this week reminded FEMA of its commitment to fulfill those obligations.
State assessment of evacuees participating in the housing program indicates that over 80 percent of the evacuees have no resources available to pay rent and utilities in the apartments where they now reside. The families remaining in Tennessee are among over 20,000 that fled the Gulf Coast last year in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Initial commitments from FEMA indicated interim housing would be paid for up to one year, or September 2006."
Yet, on Friday, an State Briefs article from the Knox News Sentinel (reg. required) includes comments by Senators' Frist and Alexander that about $2.8 million in federal funds have been "earmarked" for the state's K-12 education system for the "more than 3,700 children driven out of the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Karina last summer moved to Tennessee schools."
The first press release mentions the 3,700 families or individuals now housed in TN being assured their leases should remain intact. But the Senators's comments specifically refer to more than 3,700 children now a part of the state's school system.
How many of the refugees - whoops! - make that "evacuees" - are actually kids in school and what are the the actual number of families who relocated here?