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Atlanta mayor: In resettling evacuees, FEMA no help

'We haven't seen any of that money. It's like talking to a brick wall'

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Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin

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CNN Access
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Atlanta (Georgia)
Hurricane Katrina

(CNN) -- The federal government has not yet delivered promised financial aid to some cities that welcomed, fed and resettled Hurricane Katrina evacuees, leaving those cities struggling to pay the bills on their own.

CNN anchor Miles O'Brien on Friday spoke about the challenges facing one city with Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. Atlanta took in 42,000 families fleeing the disaster.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about this, 42,000 families. You're a big city. It's a prosperous city, but that still puts a burden on the city, doesn't it?

FRANKLIN: Well, it certainly does, but I don't think it's a burden that FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] can't help us to address.

The Congress and the president have allocated $62 billion. Our estimates are that a family needs assistance for about six months in order to stabilize themselves and that would cost about $11,000 per family. The city of Atlanta can't absorb that cost, but we can certainly work with FEMA, if they were willing, to help families get resettled in the city and the metropolitan area.

O'BRIEN: So 11,000 times 42,000. I can't do that kind of math on the fly here. But how much of that money have you seen?

FRANKLIN: Well, we haven't seen any of that money.

O'BRIEN: Oh -- zero. It's just like the mayor of Baton Rouge yesterday, a big doughnut.

FRANKLIN: Big doughnut.

O'BRIEN: Why?

FRANKLIN: We don't have any idea. I mean, I'm pretty much on record saying that we've been talking to FEMA since the storm, offering to assist, and I mean, it's like talking to a brick wall.

We identified over a thousand affordable units in our city, but we finally decided -- I threw up my hands a few weeks ago, and the city decided to go ahead and allocate about $500,000 to start working to resettle families ourselves with really no hope of being reimbursed by the federal government.

O'BRIEN: So what happens is the individual taxpayers in the city of Atlanta, basically, go on the hook, and it's a generous group of people, we know that, but nonetheless, this is something the federal government has said it would help out in.

And when you say brick wall. What happens? They put you on hold and voice-mail? Can you get through? Do you get a busy signal? What are they telling you?

FRANKLIN: Well, they're just telling us that their regulations require the city of Atlanta to lease property and then to release that property to evacuees. Well, the city of Atlanta is 400,000, and as you know, and there are lots of other jurisdictions. We're not in a position to do that. What we are in a position to do is to connect FEMA, the evacuees, with our real estate agencies, with our own properties.

O'BRIEN: Why not -- mayor, why don't they do just a simple voucher system, and people will be able to make their own choices in these matters, and it would kind of settle itself out that way, instead of hanging everybody up, the cities, and the municipalities and all these complicated rules that can't be applied to the real world.

FRANKLIN: I have no idea. Congress and the president have appropriated the funds. For some reason, they can find a way to give vouchers for private education at $7,500 per student, even for students who are in public schools along the Gulf Coast, but they cannot find a way to come up with even $7,500 for families to relocate and resettle.

It doesn't make any sense. It's baffling to all of us. We're really discouraged. Most of us are trying to find other ways to help these families.

O'BRIEN: You know, you're not a person who gets easily discouraged. You're the kind of person who doesn't like to take no for an answer. What are you going to do?

FRANKLIN: Well, we continue to talk to our delegation, our Georgia delegation. We continue to talk to FEMA. We believe that the governor of Georgia, Governor Perdue, has similar concerns. We are just doing the best we can, one family at a time.

The city has allocated funds for the first 50 families, and as they get situated and settled, we'll continue to try to find the resources to help these families out. If we don't do that, we will create a new class of poor people, who prior to the hurricane had homes, had apartments, had jobs, had cars. FEMA is just completely off base.

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