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Judge slams FEMA handling of Katrina housing payments as 'legal disaster'

[JURIST] US District Judge Richard J. Leon [official profile] said Wednesday that systems set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) [official website] to manage housing payments for victims of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] had created a "legal disaster" and ordered several FEMA officials to appear in court Monday to testify about the housing program. Leon ruled last month that FEMA must reinstate certain housing payments [ruling, PDF; JURIST report] for Katrina victims due to the agency's failure to clearly explain to evacuees why they were denied housing assistance under the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act [text].

In an order [PDF text] accompanying his ruling, Leon directed FEMA to "provide, as soon as possible, more detailed explanations for the denials of evacuees' eligibility for housing assistance benefits," but a government lawyer told the judge Wednesday that FEMA's computer system could not generate the information. Leon expressed frustration at the delay, saying that "people's rights are being denied," and noting that FEMA employees could write the letters by hand. FEMA has appealed the ruling [JURIST report], but Leon has indicated that FEMA should begin work to comply with the decision immediately. AP has more.

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