BILOXI, Miss. – The Federal Emergency Management Agency is checking whether thousands of families in Mississippi and Louisiana are eligible for the government-issued trailers they're living in, but officials have stepped back from evicting hundreds of the families.
In Mississippi, FEMA sent out "termination notices" to around 500 of the 3,000 families the agency suspected were ineligible for travel trailers intended for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina, according to agency spokesman Eugene Brezany.
Those letters, mailed in late April and early May, notified families that they had 30 days to vacate their trailers and 60 days to appeal the agency's ruling. However, Brezany said the agency has stopped mailing those notices — and the deadlines for families to vacate trailers no longer apply.
Instead, FEMA is meeting individually with families to determine whether they are eligible for emergency housing or must move out of their trailers and find more permanent housing.
"We're solving a lot of problems as we do that," Brezany said of the meetings. "We're finding a lot of documentation."
Some residents are not eligible for FEMA trailers because their "primary residence" was not destroyed by Katrina or they are not legally in the country, according to Brezany. Other households may have received multiple trailers when they were eligible for only one, he added.
More than 38,000 families in Mississippi are living in FEMA trailers or mobile homes. They are allowed to live in them for up to 18 months after the Aug. 29 hurricane, which demolished tens of thousands of Gulf Coast homes.
In Louisiana, FEMA has checked several thousand of around 75,000 trailers and mobile homes to see if occupants are eligible to live there. Only a "small percentage" of them were deemed ineligible for FEMA assistance and given 30 days to vacate their trailers, said agency spokesman Ross Fredenburg.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, expressed satisfaction with FEMA's decision but said the agency should follow up with families who may have left when they received an eviction notice.
"The idea that they would be kicked out of the temporary trailers that were provided to them is inconceivable to me. The point is to work to get people resettled into permanent housing not to render them homeless again," Lieberman said.