SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The state has hired 12 caseworkers to assist roughly 400 refugees from hurricanes Katrina and Rita who are staying in Utah.
The move comes after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced it will only reimburse Utah for its hurricane-related housing costs through March 1. Survivors may be eligible for up to 18 months of extended rent assistance, but they must apply to FEMA by Jan. 11.
"We want this transition to be as smooth as possible, and to make sure everyone gets the benefits they're entitled to," said Derek Jensen, spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Jensen said FEMA will reimburse Utah for the $36,000 it spent hiring the caseworkers, who were to be deployed Saturday.
Caseworkers will review each household's finances with an eye toward linking families with state services, such as Medicaid, food stamps or bus passes.
It's unknown if some Utah evacuees will be denied FEMA rent assistance and evicted come March.
Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29. The first batch of evacuees arrived in Utah on Sept. 3. Hurricane Rita struck three weeks later along the Texas-Louisiana border.
To date, Utah has no estimate for costs accrued it in the relief effort. But some state agencies have recently learned they won't be reimbursed for all the work hours that public employees spent volunteering.
"We only pay for overtime," or for hours volunteered over and above the regular 40-hour week, said Joseph Castel, spokesman for FEMA's western region.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)