Conceding that its staff misinterpreted data, the American Red Cross said Tuesday that only about 200,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees were now being housed in hotels and motels nationwide, not more than 600,000 as the agency reported last week.
Red Cross spokeswoman Devorah Goldburg said the higher figure represented the number of people who had been served cumulatively by the housing program, which is aimed at getting all evacuees out of large shelters. The 200,000 figure represents the people currently living in hotels and motels under the program, which the Red Cross is operating under contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As a result of uncovering the mistake, the Red Cross now calculates the cost of the motel program at $220 million to $250 million, instead of the $350 million to $425 million that was projected last week. The Red Cross expects to be reimbursed for the lodging costs by FEMA at a later date.
“If a mistake was made, we want to tell people about it,” Goldburg said. “The good news is that the program is going to cost less money to taxpayers than we thought, and we hope it signals that evacuees have found places to go.”
The misrepresentation of data adds to controversy already generated by the housing program. Officials of some other nonprofit organizations suggested earlier this month that the Red Cross, in its Katrina fund-raising appeals, initially had not made clear that it expected federal reimbursement for the housing program.
The Red Cross estimates that its total costs for Katrina relief efforts will exceed $2 billion, with the money spent on food and shelter, emergency financial assistance and physical and mental health services. The agency has raised $1.2 billion so far, roughly double the amount donated to all other agencies helping with Katrina relief.
FEMA officials say they want to move evacuees out of hotels and motels as soon as feasible and place them in less expensive, long-term temporary housing, including mobile homes, camping trailers and apartments. The motel rooms have been costing an average of $59 a night.