Texans Should Know Their Rights to Disaster Assistance in Wake of Hurricane IKE

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, many Texans are facing financial challenges that they could not have anticipated before the storm made landfall. Local, state and federal assistance is available to help storm victims overcome challenges, and rebuild their lives.

Texans who live in declared disaster areas should seek federal assistance – including disaster housing assistance – from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or logging on to www.fema.gov.

Until it is safe for evacuees to return home, FEMA has activated a transitional sheltering initiative that allows eligible Hurricane Ike evacuees to stay in hotels or motels. A listing of participating hotels is available online at http://www.FEMAEvacHotels.com. Evacuees can apply for vouchers from FEMA to help pay for their hotel and motel stays until it is safe for them to return home. Voucher amounts vary depending upon the hotel’s geographic location. Texans should be aware that within each city, vouchers have the same value – regardless of each hotel or motel’s actual rates. As a result, FEMA vouchers may not cover the full cost of each night’s stay.

Texans who stay in hotels or motels should be aware that hoteliers are not obligated to let evacuees remain at a sold out facility. That is, once occupants’ reservations expire, the hotel can ask them to vacate and make room for incoming reservations.

Evacuees who cannot return to their homes or apartments by Nov. 1, 2008 may be eligible for rental assistance through a program announced this week by FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD, through its network of Public Housing Agencies, will work with families and landlords to ensure eligible families can find available apartments.

Initially, HUD will provide full rental assistance to approved families. Beginning May 1, 2009, families will be responsible for paying $50 per month for their housing. Housing costs will increase by $50 each month until April 2010. Families in need of this housing assistance should apply through FEMA.

Texans who return home may be eligible for temporary or permanent unemployment assistance. Texans can apply for this assistance online at www.texasworkforce.org.

Texans can get more information online about available assistance at www.texasonline.gov.

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Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

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