Jeremy Alford

FEMA shells out nearly $53,000 for Acadiana needy

by Jeremy Alford

Sizeable federal grants have been awarded to portions of Acadiana to help feed and temporarily house needy residents through regional shelters, soup kitchens and food banks. The money was made available through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, an initiative administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The FEMA Grants were allocated last week to localities based on population, unemployment and poverty levels. Iberia Parish is in line for $31,737 and St. Martin Parish will receive $20,989. A portion of the money will be distributed locally by agencies such as the American Red Cross, National Council of the Churches of Christ, Salvation Army and United Way.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat who represents lower Acadiana, says that the grants will chiefly be used to address homeless challenges brought about by the recent hurricanes. He also says that the money should be viewed as a replenishing tool for the groups that saw their supplies and resources dwindle during Gustav and Ike this fall. “This federal grant funding will help supplement the private donations that our local support agencies rely on to help those who are struggling meet their most basic needs – food and shelter,” Melancon says.

According to a 2007 survey conducted by the state Department of Social Services, there were roughly 6,000 individuals in Louisiana indentified as homeless during one 24-hour period last year, from Jan. 30 to Jan. 31. Locally, the DSS survey identified the following “literally homeless” counts in Acadiana: Evangeline, nine; St. Landry, 94; Acadia, 29; Lafayette, 426; St. Martin, 4; Vermilion, 16; Iberia, 47; and St. Mary, 51.

Unsheltered persons are traditionally difficult to identify and count, and officials admit as much in the survey, adding the population coverage is “limited” as well. Still, it’s among the best statewide estimates available. About 2,700 persons identified themselves as hurricane evacuees who fled as Katrina and Rita came to shore. The survey was conducted more than a year before hurricanes Gustav and Ike pushed wind and water into the same regions.

The special FEMA grant program has been in existence since 1983 and was authorized under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. With the most recent allocation, more than $3.105 billion in federal aid will have been disbursed through the program since its inception to communities nationwide and has accounted for millions of additional meals and nights of shelter to the hungry and homeless most in need across the nation.

Program funds are used to provide the following services, as determined by local groups in each region:

· Food, in the form of served meals or groceries

· Lodging in a mass shelter or hotel

· One month's rent, mortgage, and/or utility bill payment

· Transportation costs associated with the provision of food or shelter

· Minimal repairs to mass feeding or sheltering facilities for building code violations or for handicapped accessibility

· Supplies and equipment necessary to feed or shelter people, up to a $300 limit per item

For more information, please call the EFS Program National Board staff at (703) 706-9660.