LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS -Southern Good Faith Fund’s Public Policy program today released its latest report, Helping Arkansas Katrina Evacuees Rebuild Their Lives. The report proposes several strategies the state of Arkansas can adopt to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees in the Natural State establish a stable and financially secure future.
This report is particularly timely given the recent deadline for Katrina evacuees to vacate hotels in Arkansas and other states. Many evacuees have lost their homes in other states, are still unemployed and do not have long-term housing for themselves or their families.
“There is a critical need for the state to shift its response from that of meeting evacuees immediate, basic needs to that of providing opportunities for evacuees to permanently rebuild their lives in Arkansas,â€ said Mike Leach, Director of Southern Good Faith Fund’s Public Policy program.
“The recommendations in our report offer simple strategies to help evacuees settle into more permanent housing and quality employment, which are the biggest challenges facing evacuees,” Leach said. “The state has a great opportunity to implement some of these strategies given the state’s reported $105 million Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding surplus, and recent federal law changes that allow surplus TANF funds to be used to assist evacuees.”
A key recommendation is to make Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) available to evacuees. IDAs are matched savings accounts for the purchase of key assets such a home, a college degree or starting a small business. IDAs offer an excellent strategy for helping evacuees settle into permanent housing in particular. The state already funds IDAs, but additional funding could easily be allocated from the state’s surplus TANF funds to provide IDAs to evacuees.
Similarly, surplus TANF funds could expand eligibility to evacuees for the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative, which is an existing, innovative job training and post secondary education initiative aimed at helping low-income Arkansans improve their employment and career advancement opportunities.
Key recommendations in Helping Arkansas Katrina Evacuees Rebuild Their Lives include:
- Increase TANF funding for IDAs to make IDAs available to evacuees.
- Allocate Community Development Block Grant(CDBG) or HOME program funds to provide housing assistance to evacuees.
- Provide incentives for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) to be used for housing development projects aimed at Katrina evacuees.
- Establish a state fund to guarantee innovative mortgage products such as noncomforming loans, which are loans with no down payments required and available to home buyers with challenging credit records.
- Ensure that all funds from the U.S. Department of Labor National Emergency Grant (NEG) are used for direct services to evacuees, and that job training services be made available to any evacuees who choose this kind of assistance.
- Increase TANF funding for the Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative to make evacuees eligible for the initiative.
- Expand access to credit counseling and tax preparation assistance. These services are critical to helping evacuees reestablish their credit and access to basic financial services. The report suggests ways in which such services could be made available.
- Market to evacuees their eligibility for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).
- Allow one-time, previously authorized TANF payments of $1,000 for Katrina evacuees to be used for transportation expenses related to searching for permanent housing and employment. Transportation has been identified as a key barrier to finding housing and employment.