updated 9/28/2005 8:10:22 AM ET 2005-09-28T12:10:22

The Bush administration said Monday it has distributed nearly $625 million in temporary housing assistance to people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, winning early praise from housing advocates but raising questions about whether the program has enough money.

Over the weekend, the Federal Emergency Management Agency processed claims to help more than 265,000 families in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, officials said. The estimated $2 billion program would pay for three-month rental costs — up to $2,358 per household — anywhere in the country for homeowners or renters whose residences were destroyed in the storm.

They would be eligible for assistance for up to 18 months as FEMA works with state and local authorities to rebuild the devastated communities.

Acting FEMA Director R. David Paulison said in a statement that the program is ahead of schedule in “getting funds in the hands of those in need.”

The money distributed so far does not include federal funds for Katrina victims who had been living in public housing or were homeless when the storm hit. They will receive residential assistance through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

700,000 families expected to ask for housing aid
FEMA estimates that as many as 700,000 families will apply for the housing help. Since Sunday the agency has registered an additional 36,000 households seeking assistance after Hurricane Rita.

Conrad Egan, president and chief executive of the National Housing Conference in Washington, called the program “an encouraging step forward.” He said it was too soon to tell whether it would be enough at current funding levels.

“I’m encouraged, first of all, by the way in which they’re willing to cut through the red tape and get assistance to the people who need assistance,” Conrad said. “The undecided question at this point is whether the level of support promised matches the need demonstrated.”

As of last week, Congress had appropriated $62 billion for the Katrina relief effort, of which $46 billion remained in FEMA’s disaster relief fund. The fund also can be used for Rita victims.

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