A ruling last week from U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington, D.C., concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) violated Hurricane Katrina victims’ constitutional rights to due process by failing to provide them with appropriate explanations before terminating their disaster housing assistance. Additionally, FEMA was ordered to reinstate short-term housing payments.

The issue of notification began in Feb. 2006 when FEMA attempted to transfer victims from a short-term rental assistance program implemented soon after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast region last year. The transfer involved moving victims from the short-term program to FEMA’s longer-term housing program, which would have only provided up to 18 months of housing assistance. The communication letters sent out by FEMA were accused of being “unnecessarily vague” and created a “significant risk of erroneous deprivations of property interest,” according to Judge Leon. Many who received letters ultimately were denied acceptance into the long-term program, effectively ending their federal aid.

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