Katrina survivors sue FEMA to produce timely aid

Class Action Charges FEMA With Failure to Provide Legally Obligated Services

[Washington, DC ] – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) along with the New York law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP; John Pierre, Attorney and Professor at Southern University Law Center; the Public Interest Law Project; and the Equal Justice Society, today filed a class-action suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to force the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide timely aid to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

The lawsuit states that FEMA has violated and continues to violate Federal law by failing to discharge its obligations as the federal agency charged to care for survivors of natural disasters.

“It is our hope that this lawsuit will compel FEMA to assist the disaster survivors still waiting for aid,” said Barbara R. Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee.

“There is no excuse for this failure by FEMA or for its refusal to fulfill its mandate,” said John C. Brittain of the Lawyers’ Committee.

“Without judicial oversight along the lines we have asked the court to provide, there is little chance that the victimization will cease or that FEMA will come through with the services it is legally obligated to provide,” added Brittain.

The suit seeks a court order to require FEMA to make it easier for survivors to apply for temporary housing assistance, to improve the agency’s outreach and accessibility, and to immediately provide trailers or other alternatives to replace shelters, tents and other makeshift arrangements.

“More than two months after Katrina, thousands of Americans are still being victimized, this time by bureaucratic inaction, indifference and incompetence,” said Howard O. Godnick of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP. The New York law firm is providing its services on a pro bono basis. The poor and vulnerable including children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most. “It is an outrage that these survivors must sue a Federal agency to secure services they are so clearly entitled to,” added Godnick.

The suit also asks the court to force FEMA to establish application guidelines under which survivors can obtain continued financial assistance beyond a three-month period and receive adjustments based on family size and other factors. The plaintiffs also request that the court order FEMA to eliminate certain rules regarding the use of funds that survivors have already received and to cease a policy whereby FEMA makes room for its housing by evicting and destroying the homes of trailer park residents.

The legal action has been brought by 13 named plaintiffs on their own behalf and on the behalf of a class of people who lived in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama on August 29, 2005 in areas that were subsequently declared Federal Disaster Areas, were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and have or will apply for disaster housing assistance under the Stafford Act. (



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