The Long Road Home 

Program for Katrina evacuees visits Memphis.

For the thousands of Katrina evacuees still living in Memphis, hope may be on the horizon. Louisiana's "Road Home" program — a collection of services charged with spearheading the recovery effort — has set up temporary offices at the Holiday Inn Select on Airways.

As part of the program, a displaced homeowner can receive up to $150,000 to rebuild an existing home, purchase a new home in Louisiana, or relocate out of state. The average dollar amount awarded for each claim is $76,162. In total, the program has $7.8 billion in funds earmarked directly for homeowners.

"The way the program works is there's a meeting after the application," says Tiffany Alexander, public information officer with ICF International, the firm overseeing the Road Home program. "We have been asking people to come to Louisiana, but there are so many people applying that we decided to go on the road to help them."

Applicants can schedule interviews at the Memphis location until April 29th. After the 29th, the Memphis office will be closed.

Critics of the Road Home program have pointed to vast post-interview delays as evidence of an understaffed and overloaded department. They blame bureaucratic red tape and excessive anti-fraud measures for failing to put money in the hands of displaced victims. As reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Louisiana legislature ordered a special panel to investigate ICF's handling of its contract.

As of April 16th, only 7,800 of the program's more than 125,000 applicants have received funding.

ICF counters that it is over a year ahead of schedule based on its initial October 2006 contract and that customer surveys reflect that 93 percent of people are very satisfied with the program. They also cite a 15 percent fraudulent claim rate in neighboring Mississippi's housing program to show that rigorous prevention efforts are necessary "to protect homeowners from fraud and to ensure that those who benefit from the funds are eligible Louisianans."

Statistics support ICF's claim that the Road Home process is become more efficient. Of the families that received Road Home funding, more than 6,500 of those awards were given within the last two months, according to a February PBS report.

"The Road Home program represents the largest recovery effort in U.S. history," says Alexander. "With such a large undertaking, a verification process and safeguards against fraud must be put into place, but every effort is being made to assist homeowners in any way possible. That is one of the reasons we are in cities including Dallas, Atlanta, and Memphis.

"Many Road Home employees are applicants themselves," she adds. "They are going through the exact same process they are guiding others through."

Katrina evacuees who would like to apply for Road Home funding or schedule an interview can call 1-888-Road-2-LA or visit www.road2la.org.

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