FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Cynthia Martinez, Communications Director
COURT: FEMA MUST ISSUE STANDARDS FOR DISASTER AID
Thousands of Families May Be Eligible for Assistance
MCALLEN, Texas – May 13, 2009 – A federal court has ruled that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must issue the standards and criteria used to distribute federal aid to disaster victims. The decision means that thousands of families may be eligible to receive assistance they were previously denied.
The decision comes after a lawsuit filed in November by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), the leading provider of legal aid in Texas, on behalf of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and fourteen low-income victims of Hurricane Dolly. The Rio Grande Valley residents were denied FEMA benefits because of the conditions of their homes prior to the disaster. The only explanation the residents received for their denials was that their homes suffered “insufficient damage.”
According to the original lawsuit, it is FEMA’s policy to deny housing repair assistance to homes that were in substandard condition before the storm because any 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.
“FEMA will finally have to define how it determines who gets help to rebuild their homes and their lives,” said TRLA Executive Director David Hall. “Because of this decision there are thousands of families across Texas who will have a chance to fight for aid they should have received months ago.”
After hurricanes Dolly and Ike devastated coastal areas this summer, thousands of Texas families applied for federal aid to rebuild their lives and repair their homes. In the Rio Grande Valley more than 38,000 families have applied for FEMA assistance after Hurricane Dolly. Approximately half of those families had their applications denied.
Added Hall, “Just because some families don’t have the resources to live in luxury doesn’t mean they are less deserving of federal aid after a disaster. In fact, these are the families that have needed FEMA’s help the most.”
A copy of the decision can be found at http://bit.ly/trlafemadecision.
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.