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November 08, 2007

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Tex. county to get $20 million for aiding evacuees

Most of the federal funds will go to the sheriff's office and the hospital district
 
By Rad Sallee
The Houston Chronicle 
 
HOUSTON — Harris County will get $20 million in federal funds for its efforts to help evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with the largest share earmarked for health care and criminal justice.

Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to accept the funds and to allocate $7 million to the sheriff's office and juvenile probation department. The court is expected to allot the remainder on Nov. 20, said David Turkel, the county's director of community and economic resources.

Turkel said the Harris County Hospital District will receive $6.3 million for the medical clinic and emergency services set up in the Reliant Astrodome, to which New Orleans evacuees were bused in September 2005.

The county spent about $9.3 million for relief in the Astrodome and already had received about $3 million in federal reimbursement, Turkel said.

Not enough, sheriff says

The grant is part of $429 million the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allotted this spring to help offset the Katrina relief burden statewide. That sum also includes $40 million for the city of Houston, he said.

The hospital district is the only recipient being compensated for past spending. The others' allocations will be drawn down as they bill HUD monthly for future expenditures, Turkel said.

The largest share of Harris County's grant, $6.7 million, will go to the sheriff's office for future costs of jailing evacuee offenders and for case management and counseling to prevent future crimes.

While the hospital district is "close to being made whole" for its costs, the sheriff's office funding falls short of actual spending, officials said.

Turkel said Sheriff Tommy Thomas estimated his department has spent more than $10 million on Katrina evacuees, most of that on individuals arrested by Houston police.

The county's Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority was allotted $3.55 million, enough to cover future evacuee costs, Turkel said.

Many evacuees still here

Of the estimated 250,000 evacuees who came to Houston, as many as 100,000 remain. Most of those have found jobs, but about 35,000 remain on assistance rolls, many of them elderly or disabled, Turkel said.

"MHMR has provided 39,000 counseling sessions and spent about $15 million on evacuees, but most of that was federal money," Turkel said.

The other large grant is $3.2 million for transit to take evacuees to medical appointments and the monthly caseworker interviews that are required for evacuees to continue receiving rent subsidies.

That money originally was intended for juvenile probation, but only $226,000 was needed, Turkel said.

He said the hospital district's share is the first federal compensation the county has received for the aid it administered when buses from New Orleans arrived two years ago.

"It's a lengthy, lengthy process," Turkel said.

He had no estimate of how much of the county's total spending on the evacuees will be covered by the $20 million, but said it is "just a small portion."

Copyright 2007 The Houston Chronicle

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