Citizens Group Criticizes FEMA Trailers And Homeowners Grant Program - - The News for South Mississippi

Citizens Group Criticizes FEMA Trailers And Homeowners Grant Program

"Do you know how you smell poison? It smells like poison," said Cynthia Willis as she opened her door.

Every time Willis enters her FEMA trailer, she's afraid of the fumes.

"It's going to slap you right in the face as soon as you walk in the door," Willis said.

Willis says she was recently diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and breathing problems. She blames her health troubles on Formaldehyde.

"It makes everybody stuffed up," said Willis. "You can't breathe or anything. It gives you severe headaches, so it's nothing but that formaldehyde."

"I got to turn these fans back on," Willis said as soon as she stepped inside the Gulfport trailer.

Her air conditioner and fans run non-stop, and air fresheners don't seem to help.

"I spray it on everything," she said. "I even put it on the walls,"

Willis' biggest worry is her grandchildren's health.

"I don't want it to affect my children while they're young," Willis said. "It's in their system, 'cause it can kill them, and I don't want it to kill nobody."

"Formaldehyde is a colorless smelling gas. It is a toxin," said Gerald Taylor, the State Supervisor for the Amos Network. Members of the newly-formed group want all FEMA trailers tested.

"We are calling today for the state environmental health to meet with us to one, develop a plan for comprehensive testing of all FEMA trailers in Mississippi, including providing test kits for households," Taylor said.

Members say it is FEMA's responsibility to provide a place that is safe and healthy, until hurricane victims, like Cynthia Willis, can move back into their homes.

"If you're going to do it, build it right," Willis said. "Don't put chemicals in here that hurt us."

FEMA spokesman Eugene Brezany told WLOX News, "We are concerned about the health and safety of our trailer occupants, and we are doing everything possible to reduce any problems. We are working with the EPA to develop testing options for Formaldehyde levels, but the test has not been finalized."

During the Tuesday news conference, the Amos Network also accused the Homeowners Grant Program of discriminating against minorities. Members claim the grant process has failed to reach out to low-income families who suffered damage in Katrina.

They are asking the Mississippi Development Authority to extend the application deadline for phase two, offer up to $100,000 per household, and clear-up any confusing language that may discourage people from signing up.

"The outreach of this program has been broken and faulty, and has not reached people," Taylor said. "We are asking number one that the governor, that the CDBG grant be made available to all homeowners, not just homeowners who had surge damage or water damage, who suffered hurricane-related damage in the six county area."

An MDA spokesman told WLOX News that the agency has advertised the grant program and notified the community. Scott Hamilton says the MDA is in the process of designing the next phase of the program based on the registrations it has received. Once details of the program are finalized, people who have not registered will be allowed to apply.

To contact The Amos Network, call (228) 832-7262 or (228) 326-3185.

By: Trang Pham-Bui

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