Lawmakers Say FEMA Too Slow To Set Up Mobile Homes
BATON ROUGE (AP) — State lawmakers Wednesday lambasted the pace of mobile home setup for flood victims, saying it's unacceptable that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has moved only one manufactured housing unit into a yard nearly three weeks after the catastrophic flooding.
Rep. Clay Schexnayder, a Republican who represents areas of hard-hit Ascension and Livingston parishes, criticized the FEMA mobile home program at a House homeland security committee meeting. He said it is slowing people's ability to repair their damaged homes.
"We're not expediting it fast enough to get these trailers in place. I'm confused as to why it's taking us so long to do that," Schexnayder said. He added: "Having one trailer set up so far out of all of this, one trailer, where I'm from I don't call that satisfactory at all."
The mobile homes are larger and require more preparation than the heavily-maligned FEMA trailers moved into Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which were derided as cramped and toxic with formaldehyde.
"These are not easy units to install," FEMA regional director Gerard Stolar said of the manufactured housing units that have replaced the travel trailers.
Stolar didn't offer a timeline for when more mobile homes might be installed in homeowners' yards, but said several storm victims have been approved for the units. He said after site inspection and approval for a unit, installation of a mobile home can take up to a week, requiring utility hookups and extensive setup.
After hearing the preparation and site work required, Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey, replied: "This is almost like home construction."
Debbie Gonzalez, 52, was among those waiting to hear from FEMA or the state about possible housing assistance, hoping to move out of her daughter's apartment, where she's staying after the flooding damaged her East Baton Rouge Parish home.
"I'd like to say FEMA is going to come through, but I have a feeling it's not going to," she said. "I think they've made too many roadblocks, to where things can't flow smoother."
An estimated 150,000 homes across south Louisiana were ravaged by the floodwaters.
Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration hopes more people will take advantage of a separate "shelter at home" program that provides grants of up to $15,000 so people can make modest, quick repairs that allow them to live in their houses as they do the larger reconstruction work. Thousands have applied for the program so far.
State officials expect to have crews working on "shelter at home" repairs as early as Friday.
Gonzalez said she was hoping to be eligible for that program but would take a government-supplied mobile home if that could get her back to her own property.
"I have (multiple sclerosis), and I'm living with my daughter who has two flights of stairs. If I could get something where I didn't have to climb stairs, that'd be great," she said.
Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, suggested FEMA might want to revisit its decision to scrap the Katrina-era travel trailer since the larger mobile homes take so long to install.
Also Wednesday, FEMA issued a news release urging recipients of various forms of government disaster aid to make sure they use the money properly. The agency said more than $202 million in individual assistance aid is already in the hands of flood victims.
Purposes for the grants and loans vary but may include emergency housing repairs, temporary housing or other disaster-related expenses.
"A letter explaining a payment's purpose will arrive within a day or two of the check or direct deposit payment," FEMA's release said. "If survivors use payments on anything other than their intended purpose, they may have to repay those funds – and might not be able to receive future disaster assistance.
Government agencies aren't the only ones offering help to flood victims.
The New Orleans Opera Association and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra are giving a concert next Thursday evening to benefit south Louisiana public schools, arts organizations and artists affected by the floods.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte