BOISE – President Bush has declared an emergency for Idaho, making it one of at least 29 states where the federal government has freed up funding to cover the cost of relief efforts for the hurricane-stricken Gulf Coast region.
So far, 90 refugees of Hurricane Katrina have arrived in Idaho, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency figures, including several who are staying with relatives and a few students attending Idaho colleges or universities because their schools were flooded. In addition, 16 people are recovering in Idaho nursing homes after being flown in on Air National Guard C-130 cargo planes.
Of the 90 refugees in Idaho, about 20 have so far applied for public assistance, though the final cost of aid here in the state isn’t yet known, officials said. In all, more than 380,000 people were uprooted by the Aug. 29 storm.
“The government will be picking up the cost to take care of the people as quickly as possible,” Tom Shanahan, a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said Wednesday. “We’ve told them to expedite any application from an evacuee. Primarily, that would be with Medicaid and food stamps.”
Bush’s emergency declaration helps clear up some uncertainty over who will bear the cost of caring for Idaho refugees who rely on government insurance programs.
For instance, Bush is waiving a requirement of Medicare, the publicly funded health care program for the elderly, that patients spend at least three days in a hospital before being admitted to a skilled nursing home for rehabilitation, said Jodi Vanderpool, an official at Trinity Mission, which operates facilities in Nampa that are caring for 10 refugees.
“There’s funding available,” said Vanderpool. “At this point, we’re confident we’re going to be reimbursed for the patients we are caring for.”
Trinity Mission is still raising additional money to provide extras for patients, including airfare for family members to visit them or the cost of transportation back home once they’re ready to leave the state, said Shannon Borchert, a Trinity Mission spokeswoman.
Among other things, Bush’s emergency declaration allows Idaho to be reimbursed for the cost of shipping 28,000 bottles of water aboard Air National Guard planes, as well as thousands of gallons of gasoline aboard tanker trucks that were sent south in the days after the storm.
Idaho originally had 500 beds in skilled care nursing facilities and rehabilitation centers across the state available to refugees. The rush never materialized, state officials said, initially because National Guard transport planes arrived at staging sites in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana before refugees had arrived from the most-damaged regions.
In addition, most refugees have now opted to stay closer to home rather than be flown to faraway states like Idaho – some 2,000 miles away from friends and family members in the South, Shanahan said.
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