FEMA has refused to help Mr. Ralph Morris rebuild his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Now Mr. Morris is fighting back with a federal lawsuit filed today in New Orleans.
Attorneys for Mr. Morris think his case is yet another example of FEMA officials in Washington ignoring the realities facing Katrina survivors in Louisiana. “FEMA says that Mr. Morris should have known that a previous owner of his home got FEMA money back in 1995. How would Mr. Morris ever get that information?” asked Laura Tuggle, a housing attorney at New Orleans Legal Assistance. “Mr. Morris bought his home directly from a financial institution that foreclosed on the previous owner. He never even talked to the person who got this FEMA money. And, FEMA never told him about it either.”
The lawsuit says that FEMA’s policies are both illogical and illegal. The lawsuit argues that FEMA has misread a statute involving flood insurance requirements. FEMA’s mistake, in turn, has kept Mr. Morris and others from getting FEMA assistance to rebuild from Katrina.
The law in question says that some people are required to keep flood insurance if they personally get FEMA money in a previous disaster. If that person doesn’t maintain flood insurance, the law prevents them from getting more FEMA money in a future disaster.
“Mr. Morris never received any FEMA money before Hurricane Katrina,” said Mark Moreau, Co-Director of New Orleans Legal Assistance. “FEMA is simply misreading the statute. This ban only applies to people who have personally received FEMA assistance in the past.”
Unless FEMA changes its practice to comply with the statute, attorneys fear that many homeowners in Louisiana are in jeopardy. “FEMA is basically telling new homeowners to be their own private detective for information that is not public,” Tuggle says. “FEMA’s message is ‘we have the information, but you need to find it.’ That’s just not right.”
“FEMA said I’m not getting money because I needed flood insurance on my house. FEMA never told me I needed flood insurance. No one ever told me I needed flood insurance,” explained Mr. Morris. “I just want to rebuild my house and get what’s fair. I just want FEMA to do the right thing by me.”