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Katrina Evacuee Faces Uncertain Financial Future

March 3, 2006, 5:00 PM by Perry Groten

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A Hurricane Katrina evacuee now living in KELOLAND says she's swept up in a whirlwind of bureaucratic finger-pointing that's left her struggling to make ends meet. The former New Orleans resident has nowhere to turn now that her bills are coming due.

Katherine Beleto moved into her west Sioux Falls apartment less than one month ago, and today's the deadline for her rent payment. But her landlord is going to have to wait for that check. Beleto says FEMA still owes her 23-hundred dollars for housing expenses, and it could be weeks before she finally sees the money.

Katherine Beleto has been on the phone every day, "I'm from New Orleans, Louisiana and I've just relocated up here to Sioux Falls."

In search of a sympathetic ear. "I've tried every place there is to get help to pay my rent."

Beleto's independent upbringing makes these calls to government agencies and charities all the more difficult. "I've lived on my own since I was 16, I've always paid my rent, I've worked since I was 15, I just don't like to ask people for help."

Beleto's phone calls to FEMA are the most frustrating. "FEMA's telling me that they have my appeal on file and there's over 3-and-a-half million cases they have to review and it will take 30 to 90 days before I can get the money."

Beleto started a new job this week at a convenience store next door to her apartment building. But her paycheck won't arrive in time to cover the rent. Beleto feels hurricane evacuees like herself have become the forgotten victims of Hurricane Katrina. "The government is more concerned about placing the blame on the things that went wrong with Katrina when they could use that energy to hire people for FEMA to help them get those 3-and-a-half million cases going."

Beleto isn't losing faith, despite so many dead ends. She's hopeful that her next call will finally break through the red tape and free up the money she's waiting for.

Beleto is committed to remaining in Sioux Falls. Next week, she starts classes at Kilian Community College, where she qualified for financial aid.

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