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Katrina evacuees sue FEMA to continue housing vouchers

[JURIST] Lawyers representing Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] evacuees filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court on Friday, seeking an injunction against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [official website] preventing the agency from ending housing benefits after the twelve-month housing vouchers issued by FEMA expire. The suit, filed by Houston-based law firm Caddell & Chapman [firm website] and a collection of public interest groups, alleges that FEMA's system of denying benefits to evacuees resulted in arbitrary or unfair outcomes. The lawsuit requests that FEMA be required to continue the rent voucher program 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. While FEMA argues that the vouchers were not intended to be a long-term solution to the disaster, federal law does not set a one-year time limit on emergency benefits.

Last December, a federal judge presiding over another evacuee class action against FEMA [JURIST report] ruled that the agency was required to extend its hotel stay plan [JURIST report] for evacuees. Last month, a Senate panel recommended that FEMA be replaced [JURIST report] with a more responsive emergency management system. The New York Times has more.

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