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Hurricane Katrina victims using hotel vouchers must call by Monday for extension

By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News

January 27, 2006, 9:00 p.m.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned today that evacuees from hurricanes Katrina and Rita have until Monday to call FEMA and get an individual authorization code that will extend FEMA funding for hotel accommodations beyond the night of Feb. 6.

This is the final extension in the FEMA accommodation subsidy program, according to the agency's media office.

All evacuees staying in hotels or motels paid for by the agency are eligible for the extension of accommodation payments, according to FEMA.

The authorization code is also required for evacuees who are changing motels or hotels or who are checking into a hotel or motel for the first time.

Once evacuees have received a valid authorization code, the agency will pay for their accommodations from Feb. 7 through March 1, or for two weeks after FEMA has decided whether an evacuee is eligible for further funding, whichever date is later, according to the agency.

Regardless of FEMA's ultimate assessment of the evacuees' applications for further funding, all applicants will receive accommodation support for two weeks after FEMA advises them of the outcome of their application.

Some five months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and some four months since Hurricane Rita lashed the Gulf Coast and Florida Keys, Bay Area hotels and motels are still home to a number of hurricane evacuees, said Woody Baker-Cohn, a spokesman for the American Red Cross' Bay Area chapter.

Baker-Cohn said as of Thursday the Red Cross was aware of 55 people living in San Francisco motels and hotels and 176 people in Alameda and Contra Costa counties combined.

There were probably no longer any evacuees living in Marin, Solano and San Mateo counties, Baker-Cohn said, although he added he was not able to confirm those estimates.

A spokeswoman for the Sonoma County chapter of the Red Cross said there were no evacuees in the county. Spokeswomen for the Santa Clara Valley and Monterey-San Benito counties chapters said they believed there were no longer evacuees in those regions.

Most of the evacuees who moved out to the Bay Area "had some sort of family connection," Baker-Cohn said. Others, he said, moved here because of something as simple as a film or a commercial, such as the well-known Rice-a-Roni advertisement, had given them a positive impression of San Francisco.

But financial concerns, including the uncertainty of how long FEMA would provide funding for accommodations, have proven pressing and stressful for many evacuees, Baker-Cohn said.

The cost and difficulty of finding permanent housing in San Francisco forced many hurricane victims who had initially arrived in San Francisco to leave for other Bay Area cities, Baker-Cohn said. He said evacuees are still living in Alameda County in particular.

Hurricane evacuees can obtain an authorization code from FEMA by calling FEMA's 24-hour help line at (800) 621-FEMA. The TTY number for the help line is (800) 462-7585.

Evacuees should note that the FEMA call center providing authorization codes will close at 10 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Monday, according to FEMA spokeswoman Allison Hadley.

Evacuees needing housing assistance can also receive help by calling FEMA's Housing Locator Service at (800) 762-8740, which is open daily from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST; HUD Programs general inquiries at (800) 955-2232; and HUD Disaster Housing Assistance at (866) 373-9509. The HUD TTY number is (800) 877-8339.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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