State to receive federal aid for relief efforts

Cati Vanden Breul

The federal government might reimburse the University for deploying Medical Reserve Corps members who brought medical relief to Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana.

President George W. Bush declared an emergency last week in Minnesota, which means the federal government will reimburse the state for aid it provides to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Twenty-two reserve corps members are currently in the New Orleans area, and the Academic Health Center will continue rotating teams every two weeks for the next 60 days, said Jill DeBoer, director of the center’s Emergency Preparedness Program.

“Our hope would be that when the dust settles Ö we’ll see recovery for those costs,” DeBoer said.

Minnesota will also receive federal money to assist hurricane survivors who evacuated to the state.

Approximately 1,000 people have registered for assistance in Minnesota through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross, said Al Bataglia, director of the state’s division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

That translates into about 3,000 evacuees when including children, spouses or other relatives, Bataglia said.

Minnesota is providing the same services FEMA is offering to hurricane victims in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

In other state disasters, the federal government would provide 75 percent of the aid and the state would be responsible for the rest. But in this case, the federal government and FEMA will fully fund relief efforts in Minnesota.

Evacuees can go to the State Assistance Center – which opened Thursday in St. Paul – for food, clothing and medical attention. They can at the center also get help finding housing, employment and schools for their children.

“It’s designed as a one-stop shop for these people to come for registration with FEMA, and to get help,” Bataglia said.

Five hundred people came to the center on the first day, and the site has received a steady flow since then, Bataglia said.

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, along with HousingLink, a nonprofit organization that helps people find places to live, has put together an inventory of vacant units around the state, said Rochelle Rubin, director of MHFA.

They’ve also trained landlords and property managers to volunteer as relocation counselors at the assistance center.

The counselors talk to the families to find out how many people need housing, where they want to live and any specific needs they have.

“They can lay out options for people, tell them what’s available and what might be out there for them,” Rubin said.

As of Sunday, 100 displaced families had sought housing assistance at the center, 60 of whom came the first day it opened, she said.

Some landlords have agreed to subsidize or financially assist families in affording rent, and the state will also shell out money to house evacuees, Bataglia said.

“The state is going to have to end up fronting the money for rent,” he said.

But the federal government is expected to reimburse the state for the cost.

Although none of his relatives came to Minnesota after the hurricane, University student Brandon Chabaud, originally from Louisiana, said the center is a good idea for victims with nothing left.

“For people who have absolutely no resources, no home or clothing and no money and make it up here, (the center) sounds like it would be really beneficial,” Chabaud said.

Soren Jenson, a spokesman for the Minneapolis chapter of the Red Cross, said teamwork between nonprofit organizations and the federal and state governments is essential to helping hurricane survivors.

“That’s what’s great about the services center, everyone’s there,” Jenson said.

The center, at 1410 Energy Park Drive in St. Paul, is expected to stay open until the end

of the month but will continue operating for as long as it is needed.