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Housing vouchers ending for families displaced by Michael

April 6, 2019

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Most of the almost 280 families still receiving federal aid to pay for hotel rooms after being displaced by Hurricane Michael are facing an end next week to their temporary housing vouchers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is ending its Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program next Tuesday to all but 17 families who live in the county hardest hit by last October’s storm. After the deadline, the affected families will have to pay for their hotel rooms themselves or be evicted.

Bay County Commission chairman Philip Griffitts said more time is needed for all residents in the program, given the lack of available housing since the Category 4 storm devastated the Florida Panhandle.

“FEMA, you’re wrong on this ... you’re wrong,” Griffitts said.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management plans to send an appeal letter to FEMA, Griffitts said. The county also has reached out to U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, for their help.

The Panama City News Herald reports that FEMA said the vouchers weren’t a long-term housing solution.

To be eligible for an extension, residents need to have a long-term housing plan and a strategy for how to achieve it within two months after the extension, according to FEMA.

“We are still identifying all of those who are eligible for the extension,” FEMA told the newspaper in a statement.

Of all the Florida Panhandle areas affected by Hurricane Michael, Bay County was hardest hit. Officials said almost three-quarters of its 68,000 households were affected.

FEMA hasn’t fully assessed the housing situation in Bay County, Griffitts said.

“We don’t believe FEMA is doing the work to case manage these folks,” Griffitts said. “We’re already in a critical housing crisis from the storm and this is just putting more families in crisis ... This is not a normal hurricane, not a normal disaster.”

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Information from: The (Panama City, Fla.) News Herald, http://www.newsherald.com

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