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The National Low Income Housing Coalition will hold a briefing today on the post-Katrina low income housing needs of Gulf Coast evacuees.

The recovery process has proven that the structure of federal emergency benefits for everything from health care and food to housing and direct assistance programs is painfully fragmented.

The Center for American Progress released a report last month which offers suggestions for ensuring better preparedness and recovery capacity for natural disasters or attacks.

The report urges the federal government to implement system-wide requirements for benefits that ensure that citizens needing help receive up to 18 months of necessary assistance. The notion that citizens can restart their lives within one year is clearly misguided. Facing uncertain job, housing and education prospects, displaced residents with little or no financial ability to weather the storm cannot be expected to get back on their feet within a few months.

Housing in particular needs a stronger federal commitment. Unused FEMA trailers sit around New Orleans and the Gulf region today, the result of serious production and delivery delays in getting the trailers to the affected area. This is unacceptable. The national government should consider developing a more humane and cost-effective form of temporary housing during natural disasters and emergencies.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is far better positioned than FEMA to deal with housing needs through existing funding authority for so-called Section 8 vouchers. By reserving funds for emergency Section 8 vouchers and expanding their use in emergencies, displaced residents could more easily get into safe and stable apartments or houses across a state or region, foregoing the painful process of having to deal with trailers or emergency centers. Expanded vouchers would also give the most economically pressed citizens a chance to start a better life in a new neighborhood should they desire to leave their affected home.

One year after the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast residents still await trailers and supplies. It is time for the government to create a solution for getting disaster victims necessary help now.

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