FEMA: Our Holidays Are More Important than Disaster Victims

PDF Version Available for Download

Copy of FEMA’s Response to the Lawsuit

December 17, 2008

Contact: Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director

BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Lawyers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are asking a Brownsville court to delay action on a lawsuit regarding aid to victims of Hurricane Dolly because agency officials have holiday travel plans until early 2009.

The argument comes in response to a lawsuit filed by fourteen Rio Grande Valley residents who are victims of Hurricane Dolly and have been denied FEMA housing repair assistance.  The residents are asking the United States District Court in Brownsville to take action on the lawsuit as soon as possible because of their current living conditions.  Many of the residents were forced out of their homes or are living in unsafe conditions due to the damage they sustained.

Represented by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the leading provider of legal aid in Texas, the residents claim that it is FEMA’s policy to deny housing repair assistance to homes that were in substandard condition before the storm.  FEMA believes that damage during the disaster was caused by the quality of the home.  This approach to disaster aid prevents low-income families from receiving assistance that they qualify for and need for their health and safety.

“Every day that these families are denied assistance is another day that they have to subject themselves to unsafe living conditions,” said TRLA attorney Jerome Wesevich. “FEMA should be giving these families’ holiday plans as much consideration as they are giving their own.”

In the court document FEMA attorneys argue that, with the approaching holiday season, it will be impossible for the agency to respond to any court deadlines or instructions.  They also claim that there is no immediate threat to the health and safety of any of the victims.

Added Wesevich, “At least FEMA officials have their priorities.  While they’re enjoying the holidays, hurricane victims in the Rio Grande Valley are going to keep wondering when the government will finally find the time to help them.”

To view a copy of the lawsuit and related documents, visit http://tinyurl.com/trlafema3 .

Established in 1970, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA) is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income and disadvantaged clients in a 68-county service area. TRLA’s mission is to promote the dignity, self-sufficiency, safety and stability of low-income Texas residents by providing high-quality legal assistance and related educational services.


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