This came across my desk last night. It seems FEMA is at least an equal opportunity fuck-up. After picking up your family and evacuating, to get out of the path of hurricane Katrina, only to be told when you reach out for help that you’re not a family after all? Well, if you’re a same-sex family in that situation, be prepared for FEMA to add insult to injury or, in this case, discrimination to disaster.
Marriage has allowed Bay State same-sex couples unprecedented access to state benefits, but now one couple believes their marriage may be an obstacle to receiving basic relief services after Hurricane Katrina.
The couple, Yolanda and Jan Meehan-Hoo, were legally married last February when they lived in North Attleboro, but last June they made an ill-fated move with their three children to Slidell, La., right in the path of Hurricane Katrina. Now they’re back in Massachusetts, staying with a family in Attleboro, and they are working with one of their hosts, Forrest King, a 53-year-old retiree, to secure relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), medical services through MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program and transitional assistance to establish themselves in Massachusetts. King, who has taken the lead in navigating the state and federal bureaucracy to access these services for the couple, claims FEMA halted the couple’s application after he demanded that they be recognized as a same-sex couple.
“FEMA will not accept gay and lesbian couples as a household. [The agency says] do it [as two] separate [applicants], even if they’re living together,” said King.
Kinda makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it? In the middle of a disaster, our government can still find the time and has the will to discriminate amongst the disaster victims. With hurricane Rita making it’s way through the Gulf region, it’s likely there will be more stories like this. There have probably already been more that we just haven’t heard about. This story, though, does have an ending that — if not entirely happy — provided some relief for the family involved. Though it looks like they’ll still have some trouble with FEMA.
After discussions between King and FEMA, the couple agreed to change the application to list Jan as “immediate family” rather than as a spouse, but King says he has pressed the agency to acknowledge the Meehan-Hoos as married spouses on their application, to no avail. The couple received a $2000 check from FEMA earmarked for the family, but King said his dispute with agency over their marital status has prevented their application for further relief from being processed. Again, as a result of confidentiality, FEMA could not confirm or deny this.
And this is a federal agency. Remember that the Bush administration would rather have faith-based organizations doing all of this kind of work. (That may be one reason FEMA has been downgraded and so poorly staffed/managed; to get it out of the disaster-relief business by making it a disaster.) How many more stories like this might there be if only faith-based organizations were doing disaster-relief? How many same-sex families might not get any relief at all?