July 17, 2006 in Nation/World

FEMA to cut post-hurricane aid

Doug Simpson Associated Press
 

NEW ORLEANS – People displaced by future hurricanes probably will not get the $2,000 federal handout that went to Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees last year, a top official in the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Sunday.

The elimination of that post-hurricane financial aid is one of many changes in the agency’s tactics this year, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson, who was named FEMA deputy director in April, said in an interview.

He wouldn’t give specifics on the elimination of the $2,000 payments or what might replace them.

Details of the changes – including streamlined ways of handling evacuations, transportation, shelters and debris removal – will be explained in a letter this week from Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, to the governors of the 12 coastal states vulnerable to Atlantic hurricanes, Johnson said.

He said his agency has improved since last year’s storms and the flood of criticism that followed its slow response to Katrina.

“We’re not where we want to be, … but we’re miles ahead of where we were,” Johnson said.

Johnson participated in a panel discussion on hurricane preparedness Sunday at the annual meeting of the Southern Governors Association, held in downtown New Orleans, one section of the hurricane-ravaged city that is recovering well from Katrina. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco is chairwoman of the group.

Blanco, a critic of FEMA’s response to Katrina, said “it’s hard to say” how much progress FEMA has made because it has yet to respond to a hurricane since its policies were overhauled.

She said she hopes improvements in readiness by both her state government and by FEMA after Katrina will make hurricane response more effective.

Johnson said his agency has improved plans for coordinating transportation – getting people out of storm-threatened areas – and having shelters ready. Much red tape and paperwork have been eliminated, he said.

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