Town Meeting: Finances

People devastated by Hurricane Katrina have many urgent questions. Mellody Hobson addressed some of the financial concerns of evacuees staying at the Reliant Astrodome in Houston as part of "Good Morning America's" town meeting:

Question: How can I pay for housing when I don't have money or know the area here?

Michael Recasner, 54, retired widower who takes care of his grandchild.

Hobson: If you have not already, it is vital that you register with FEMA, and there are representatives there at the Astrodome. As an evacuee, you are eligible for temporary housing. In Houston, the city plans to provide 10,000 rental units to evacuees. Houston intends to distribute vouchers and to be reimbursed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and FEMA. City officials said Wal-Mart would also provide some appliances and household items, while landlords would waive credit checks and deposits.

Question: We've heard about so much money being donated, but how can we find out what portion of it we can receive?

Rachel Welch, 43, single mother

Hobson: People should know that what I call the big three of our nation's charities -- the Red Cross, the United Way and the Salvation Army -- all give almost all the donations they receive to those in need from Hurricane Katrina. The United Way gets 94 percent of donations to those in need; the Red Cross gives 91 percent; and the Salvation Army gives 83 percent.

But Katrina victims may not see those donations in the form of direct cash payments. Some of the Red Cross money is going for the debit cards that are being handed out, but the charities are also helping with food, shelter and many other needs.

Question: I have severe arthritis. Where can I find out about disability benefits?

-- Joann Hampton, 52, still searching for her two sons and two daughters.

Hobson: Disability is the forgotten part of Social Security. The federal government set up Social Security not only for people's retirement but also to protect people in the event of disability. So if you are too disabled to work, you are eligible for benefits through Social Security, regardless of your age. You can apply for disability benefits online or there is a toll-free number: 1-800-772-1213.

Question: I worked as a nurse practitioner in New Orleans. How do I get my last paycheck from there?

-- Carolyn Mutin-Schexnayder

Hobson: If you had direct deposit and your bank account was at a national bank, you can go to a branch there in Houston and you should be able to get your money. If you account was at an independent bank, you should go to a bank in Houston to open a new account. The FDIC has waved many of the usual paperwork/identification requirements. The money could then be wired to that account.

If you did not have direct deposit, you need to call your old employer, which I acknowledge may be very difficult to do since you worked in New Orleans. If the hospital or company where you worked was a national company, you could call the payroll department at another location for help in tracking down you paycheck. If at all possible, people still looking for their next paycheck should make every effort to track down their last paycheck.

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