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Federal judge refuses restraining order against FEMA in Katrina housing lawsuit

[JURIST] A federal judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order that would have forced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [official website] to continue a housing voucher program for evacuees from Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive]. Without the restraining order, about 2,000 evacuees will lose their benefits on Thursday, as FEMA shifts to a program with more stringent eligibility requirements. As he denied the restraining order Tuesday, US District Judge David Hittner [official profile] ordered FEMA to expedite consideration of voucher extensions for those evacuees. The request arose from a class-action lawsuit [JURIST report] that was filed on behalf of 12 evacuees earlier this month in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas [official website] by Houston-based law firm Caddell & Chapman [firm website] and a collection of public interest groups.

The suit alleges that FEMA's system of denying benefits to evacuees resulted in arbitrary or unfair outcomes. It requests that FEMA be required to continue the rent voucher program [FEMA backgrounder] through at least June 30, enlarge the program to cover utilities as well as rent, and to develop clear decision-making criteria for the administration of benefits. Hittner has scheduled another hearing in the case for June 20. AP has more. The Houston Chronicle has local coverage.

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