Galveston mayor: FEMA needs to be revamped

March 4, 2009 5:32:25 AM PST
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster assistance protocols should be revamped so areas suffering as a result of Hurricane Ike can get the aid they need faster, Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas told a House Homeland Security subcommittee. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Thomas told Congress Tuesday that applications for aid had accumulated at FEMA without action and that the agency had demanded documents to support claims from people who had lost everything. Thomas asked Congress to cut red tape and speed federal assistance to thousands of people who lost their homes to Hurricane Ike nearly six months ago.

A federal report last month said 13,000 families in Galveston County were unable to return home and, according to the Gulf Coast Homeless Coalition, nearly 600 people remain homeless from the devastating hurricane that struck last September. Just 35 percent of businesses have reopened.

Thomas also testified that the agency had attempted to force the city to pay a $3 million bill from a private contractor for setting up a Red Cross tent city.

"For areas hurt as badly as Galveston, the normal rules for recovery are often insufficient. This entire program needs to be revamped," Thomas said in Tuesday's online edition of the Houston Chronicle.

FEMA spokesman David Garratt defended the agency's handling of hurricane relief without addressing the issues raised by the mayor. FEMA funnels funds through the states where bottlenecks occur, he said. Progress has been made but "a number of unique and significant hurdles remain," Garratt said.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee, has called for a report of changes wanted by Galveston officials and others, within 30 days.

But Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the Homeland Security Committee that oversees Cuellar convinced "we can improve accountability and streamline the red tape."

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