(BILOXI, MS) June 3 -- What are people who receive FEMA assistance doing to help themselves? That's the question NBC 15's Andrea Ramey asked those who have been staying for free in hotel rooms after they moved out of FEMA supplied travel trailers. What she found out is there are some who are doing very little.
The scorching heat puts many at the Quality Inn poolside, but for Gwenester Malone, she chooses to beat the heat by setting her thermostat to sixty degrees. Malone's room for the past three months, along with three meals daily, have all been paid for by taxpayers.
"Do you work?" asked NBC 15's Andrea Ramey.
"No. I'm not working right now," said Malone.
Malone says she can't drive and it's too hot outside to find work within walking distance. "Since the storm, I haven't had any energy or pep to go get a job, but when push comes to shove, I will," said Malone.
Just a few blocks away, Kelley Christian also stays at a hotel for free. She says she's not taking advantage of her situation, but admits it's easy to do. "It's too easy. You know, once you're there, you don't have to pay rent," said Christian. "I kept putting it off and putting it off and now, I'm tired of putting it off."
She says she'll be out of the hotel and in an apartment by the end of the month. Push came to shove for Christian when police found a meth lab in a hotel room directly below her. "All kind of people in white suits pulled all kind of chemicals out here. There was enough to line up about three cars worth of chemicals. It scared the heck of me," said Christian.
Taxpayers also paid for that meth lab. The men police arrested were receiving FEMA assistance. The hotel owner says he'll now have to spend $5,000 to clean out the room.
As for Malone, she says she's not seeing any drug activity at her hotel. It's too nice she says. Why would she want to leave?
FEMA has not been able to provide the exact totals as to how much all the meals and hotel rooms are costing taxpayers, but FEMA has said repeatedly it works with people continuously to find permanent housing, and it will not leave anyone homeless.
Since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast nearly three years ago, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Mississippi has charged more than 275 people with FEMA fraud.
Wow! I never would have thought that if you paid for people to live free in a hotel, they'd just sit around all day and do nothing. Mind you it does take some time for people to get back to their former levels of economic activity after a disaster. Katrina was only 3 years ago.