Unused FEMA trailers headed to American Indian reservations

Published 10:13 pm Saturday, June 23, 2007

American Indian tribes throughout the country will receive 2,000 unused trailers that were intended for but never given to Hurricane Katrina victims.

Thousands of trailers have been idling in Arkansas and Texas, prompting criticism about government waste. They originally were purchased to house people displaced by the hurricane, but FEMA officials said regulations against placing the homes in flood plains prevented their use on the Gulf Coast.

Last year, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., urged the agency to donate the trailers to American Indian country, but the agency said federal law dictated the trailers must be used for disaster victims. In September, Johnson pushed through legislation allowing FEMA to sell or donate the trailers.

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Nine months later, the trailers will finally be distributed, Johnson said in a statement issued by his office Friday.

“I saw pictures of tens of thousands of empty mobile homes sitting unused in Hope, Ark., while South Dakota’s Indian tribes were struggling through a tough winter with inadequate housing,” Johnson said in the statement. “There is still much that needs to be done to improve Indian housing, but this is a good step toward addressing this serious problem.”

Indian housing has been a problem for decades. According to a 2003 survey, approximately 90,000 Indian families are homeless or “under-housed.”

Johnson is out of the Senate recovering from a December brain hemorrhage, but he has been working from home on the issue, said spokeswoman Julianne Fisher.