WASHINGTON - The federal government plans to begin doling out debit cards worth $2,000 each to adult victims of Hurricane Katrina, The Associated Press has learned.
Homeland Security Department Secretary Michael Chertoff described the plan in a conference call with state officials Wednesday morning. The unprecedented cash card program initially will benefit stranded people who have been moved to major rescue centers such as the Houston Astrodome.
"They are going to start issuing debit cards, $2,000 per adult, today (Wednesday) at the Astrodome," said Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The cards could be used to buy food, transportation, gas and other essentials, according to a state official who was on the call and requested anonymity because the program has not been publicly announced.
In Boston, Gov. Mitt Romney said the cards will be offered "to people in shelters as well as people who are not in shelters but who have evacuated the area and need help." He said the hope is the cards will encourage people to leave shelters voluntarily.
It's unclear how much the debit card program will cost the government, but it could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars since hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.
Homeland security officials did not immediately release details of the plans after the call with governors, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency was still sorting out which individuals would be eligible.
Not everyone will qualify for a debit card, said Ed Conley, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Houston.
"For instance you may have some people who have insurance and insurance is meeting their living expenses while they have been displaced. You have some people who may be looking at an option such as a cruise ship where all of their needs are going to be met. It is going to vary by family," said Conley.
When it comes to distribution of the cards, Conley said, "we are scheduling an appointment with the family and then providing it to them."