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FEMA deadlines loom

Saturday marks two very important deadlines for victims of Hurricane Katrina. First, anyone who needs help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, even if they are staying with relatives, have jobs, or otherwise have their lives back together, should sign up with FEMA by calling 1 (800) 621-3362. Saturday is the registration deadline.

“It is six months later and there are people who haven’t registered, people who thought their insurance would take care of everything and are coming up short, and now suddenly realize they need FEMA, or they may need FEMA. It is better to register ... their situation may change,” says Jack Heesch, public affairs officer for FEMA, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security umbrella.

Another crucial deadline also looms on Saturday, and that is a Small Business Administration loan-application deadline. Katrina survivors need to apply even if they are not eligible for a loan, because it is a trigger for other FEMA aid. “Normally the SBA is for business,” says Heesch, “but for a disaster it is a sister agency. People who think they cannot pay back a loan should apply. Once SBA gets an application and determines someone is not eligible for a loan, they become eligible for help from FEMA. You have to go through the process.”

Heesch says many Katrina survivors have not filled out the SBA paperwork. Those living in San Antonio should check in with the Disaster Recovery Center at Kelly USA, where SBA representatives can help applicants.

Right now, an estimated 20,000 or more Katrina survivors in San Antonio are struggling to get their lives back together after losing everything, Heesch says. It’s all about beating the deadlines.

Right now, an estimated 20,000 or more Katrina survivors in San Antonio are struggling to get their lives back together after losing everything, Heesch says. It’s all about beating the deadlines.

Yvonne Hayes had to visit the center last week as a FEMA deadline expired for Katrina victims who were housed in local hotels. According to a press release from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, “families were told they would have to `move out of their hotel rooms, and` check into a homeless shelter until long-term solutions can be identified.”

ACORN members, including Hayes, who has a 13-year-old disabled son attending eighth-grade classes at Guardian Angel Performance Art Academy, announced they would squat in the hotel lobby and refuse to “allow FEMA to dump them off at a homeless shelter. FEMA will no longer pay for hotel rooms, but many families still have pending cases, and FEMA cannot provide families with real, long-term housing options,” according to the press release.

Hayes, who holds a master’s degree in social work, says she owns a now-damaged home in Uptown New Orleans. Her house could be repaired for about $70,000, and she says she has applied to occupy a FEMA trailer, but does not know when it might arrive.

She is torn between going home and finding permanent housing in San Antonio.

“We’re still in the Embassy Suites hotel, praying for a miracle that someone would open the door for us, get us into a HUD home in a nice neighborhood, with transportation bus lines and without dodging bullets or being on San Antonio’s outskirts.”

Hayes, who with her family had to stand in water up to her neck until the Coast Guard rescued her and transported her to the New Orleans airport, says FEMA extended her deadline to leave the hotel to March 13, but she wants more time.

She wants to own a home rather than rent, and she doesn’t want to sign a long-term lease for an apartment because of her pending application for a FEMA trailer in New Orleans.

“I haven’t thought about finding a job, I have no place and no transportation,” says Hayes. “San Antonio is huge, it’s not like New Orleans. I could get anywhere on time on the bus in New Orleans.”

Hayes and her son, Dwaine, want a more permanent living arrangement without feeling pressured into moving to a dangerous neighborhood. “I just want to feel secure and safe with my son, and I don’t want to feel pressured.”

By Michael Cary

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