updated 6/13/2006 3:40:35 PM ET 2006-06-13T19:40:35

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would not help Indian country relieve a housing or schoolroom shortage with the trailers not used after Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., suggested to FEMA that the 20,000 mobile homes sitting in Hope, Ark., that were to be used for Katrina victims, be sent to Indian country for use as school classrooms and homes.

FEMA, in a letter to Johnson, indicated it would be storing only 5,000 homes at the Hope site. Some would be sent to northern climates and others to the West for possible disaster relief.

''I'm disappointed that FEMA would choose to leave these trailers literally stuck in the mud. Bureaucracy is getting in the way of simple common sense. We could use those trailers in Indian country and by doing so, make lemonade from lemons. FEMA apparently prefers rotten fruit,'' Johnson said.

Johnson said FEMA could make a much-needed step toward serving communities that are in crisis.

''Rather than allow these homes to go to waste they can be used immediately in Native communities not only for housing but also as additional classrooms for reservation schools, whose facilities are in desperate need of repair,'' Johnson said in his letter to FEMA.

An estimated 90,000 families in Indian country are underhoused. An estimated 200,000 units would be needed to fill the housing need immediately, Johnson said. More than 30 percent of households on the reservations are overcrowded, according to Johnson.

In the letter to Johnson, Pamela Turner, assistant secretary for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, did not give Johnson a flat no, but she did explain what FEMA intended to do with the trailers.

Turner stated that the mobile homes are used as temporary housing units placed at the site of an applicant's disaster-damaged property. Her letter went on to explain how the process worked, how regulations prevented the mobile homes from being placed in flood plains and that infrastructure must be in place.

Nowhere in the letter was the reason why the mobile homes could not be sent to Indian country detailed, other than that they were going to be stored somewhere else for disaster relief and that the 5,000 in Hope would be used to support relief efforts for the upcoming hurricane season.

''FEMA must be doing intelligent problem-solving for distressed Americans. Providing these homes to Native communities would be a much-needed step towards serving communities in crisis and a thoughtful deployment of federal resources,'' Johnson said.

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