Bishop Jenkins testifies on Capitol Hill

Updated Saturday Morning

Describing his own experience and those the Diocese of Louisiana has ministered to, Bishop Charles told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that he was a “refugee in his own country.”

The hearing, “Still Post Katrina: How FEMA Decides When Housing Responsibilities End,” was to hear testimony on the question of whether Congress will continue funding the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP). He was asked to specifically address the implications that a final shutdown of DHAP would have in Louisiana. Joining him is a representative from HUD, FEMA, and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA). Bishop Jenkins was the only non-governmental official who has been asked to provide testimony on DHAP.

Updated: Episcopal Life describes the hearing in detail and its purpose:

Jenkins was part of a four-person panel addressing the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which is chaired by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

Other panel members were David Garratt, acting deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); Fred Tombar III, senior advisor to the Secretary for Disaster and Recovery Programs, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and Paul Rainwater, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

The purpose of the three-hour hearing, titled, “Still Post-Katrina: How FEMA Decides When Housing Responsibilities End,” was to receive testimony on the status of housing assistance provided after the August 29, 2005, hurricane hit the Gulf Coast.

Of particular concern were FEMA’s thrice-extended Katrina Housing Program, which formally ended on May 1, and HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), also extended, which ended in March and will cease making rental payments to participants on August 31.

This is some of what he said:

Through our case management and Rebuild programs, as well as through our community organizing, the Episcopal Diocese comes in daily contact with the most vulnerable of those affected and displaced by hurricane Katrina as well as by more recent storms. In fall 2008, outreach organizers for Rebuilding Lives conducted 1,000 surveys – traveling into homeless shelters, hotels, food pantries, and discount stores to find homeless and transient storm survivors and capture data on their predicaments. Survey respondents included pre-storm renters, homeowners, DHAP participants and those deemed ineligible for housing assistance.

As is indicated by these survey results and the stories we hear each day, very few of the people we serve will be able to sustain themselves after the DHAP program closure on August 31 of this year. Others will be unable even to make the incrementally increasing monthly rent contributions. We understand that of the approximately 17,000 families on DHAP in the state of Louisiana, almost 60% are expected to qualify to transfer to permanent housing vouchers. This is a much-needed help, and we are grateful to HUD for expanding access to these permanent vouchers. We remain concerned, however, for the approximately 7,000 remaining households who will not qualify for a voucher but who are at grave risk of becoming homeless without further assistance.

Consider the case of Ms. S., a single mother whose home in St. Bernard Parish was wiped out by Katrina. She is working on rebuilding, and has “the shell of a house” completed, but is out of funds to do the rest of the work. She received less Road Home money than expected, and is still fighting with her insurance company over the paltry settlement. She and her son were in a FEMA trailer but were moved 6 months ago due to the health problems he had developed. She also suffers from severe migraines. Any extra money they have goes to cover medical costs (the father does not pay child support). They have been living in a DHAP-supported apartment, and do not know where they will go if their home is not completed at the end of the DHAP program.

Read the Episcopal Life article here

Listen to Bishop Jenkins here.

Read the rest here.

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