The Federal Emergency Management Agency has scrapped plans to evict 3,000 Mississippi households suspected of being ineligible for post-Hurricane Katrina emergency trailers after some recipients said that the government's mistaken determination had left them facing homelessness.
Last month, the Los Angeles Times interviewed a number of Mississippians who said they had received eviction notices in error. Others cited what they described as gray areas in FEMA's eligibility requirements.
The letters gave the recipients 60 days to appeal the decision -- but 30 days to get out of their trailers. The manager of one trailer park in D'Iberville, Miss., said a number of families who received the notices had already moved away.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that the evictions were part of a "mismanaged recovery process."
"The people of the Gulf Coast are in extreme need," he said. "The idea that they would be kicked out of the temporary trailers that were provided to them is inconceivable to me."
FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany said the agency had stopped sending the eviction letters and would instead meet individually with hurricane victims whose eligibility was deemed questionable. The agency is in the process of calling the estimated 450 households that already received letters to tell them the notices no longer apply.
"We're going to do what we can to help them become eligible, and if not, we're going to work with them one-on-one to develop some kind of housing resolution," he said.
Last month, FEMA said the eligibility of the 68,000 trailer-dwelling households in Louisiana was also under review. Agency officials in Louisiana did not return calls Tuesday for comment on the status of that effort.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit organization that is offering legal help to some Mississippi trailer tenants, applauded the policy shift.
But Jonathan P. Hooks, an attorney with the group, said FEMA needed to take other steps to clarify its policies for people living in trailers.
Hooks said the agency is requiring trailer residents to show that they are working on "permanent housing plans" to remain eligible for a trailer. But he said the rules are not clear about what constitutes a viable plan.
Alternative housing plans can be hard to come by, he said, because the Mississippi Gulf Coast is sorely lacking affordable housing some 10 months after the storm hit.