After a day of confusion and complaints, officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Thursday that the agency would not expand a trial program to distribute debit cards worth US$2,000 to victims of Hurricane Katrina for immediate living expenses.
A FEMA official in Washington said the cards would be distributed at the Astrodome in Houston beginning yesterday.
Reports that the debit cards would be distributed Thursday morning at the Astrodome, a temporary shelter, brought several hours of confusion to the complex, attracting a crush of cars and pedestrians that caused the police to shut the gates, locking out thousands of residents in the 32-degree heat.
Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge,David Passey, a FEMA spokesman, said he did not know why the program had been discontinued.
But Passey said, "As we've looked at the logistics of expanding the debit card, we believe that our normal methods of delivery, checks and electronic funds transfer, will suffice."
Under questioning by reporters, he said he could not explain why traditional conduits of aid, which take from 10 days to two weeks to reach victims, provided they have addresses or working bank accounts, had been deemed more appropriate than the immediate relief offered by the debit cards.
He said "program specialists" had made the decision.
Announcing the debit card program on Wednesday, Michael Brown, the FEMA director, said it was designed to "empower" evacuees "to make their own decisions about what they need to have to restart their lives." But he did not say when and where the cards would be distributed.
In Baton Rouge, people went to a Red Cross office believing they could get the debit cards there.
Callers to a Baton Rouge radio station from as far away as Atlanta and Houston complained that they did not know how to get the cards. One person said she had called the FEMA office in New York, only to be told that the cards were in Atlanta. But Passey said the cards had been intended for distribution only at the Astrodome, where the highest concentration of evacuees was housed.
After the police lockdown at the complex, the order that characterized the temporary housing situation there so far threatened to collapse, as people fainted, pushed and shoved, and complained loudly.
"It's just a hassle to get assistance," Sparkle Stanwood, 25, an evacuee from downtown New Orleans, said as she stood outside an Astrodome gate, sweat glistening on her face. "They gave us an appointment for 10am today -- now they won't let us in. Some people broke a gate open. It's a lot of people, and it's hot."
Another evacuee, Eric Robertson, said: "We're very angry. We don't really know what's going on. It's so unorganized out here. There's nobody to even answer a question about why the place is on lockdown."
The Red Cross in Houston began handing out debit cards Thursday loaded with US$650 to US$1,600 in purchasing power. The relief organization issued 7,000 cards at the Reliant complex around the Astrodome and will issue more Friday at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Tennessee has distributed 1,550 "electronic benefit cards."
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread