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We don't need a black eye

I saw a disturbing news story from Detroit that I hope doesn't filter down to other cities in which Hurricane Katrina evacuees are living in hotels. The Detroit News reported on Monday that FEMA is still paying at least one hotel in the Detroit area for evacuees who apparently are no longer housed there.

According to the paper's investigators, nine rooms at the independent property are registered to evacuees who have either left the hotel or could not be located by either the reporter or the hotel staff. FEMA pays a minimum of $325 a week for each of the rooms. Blame for the costly snafu (or fraud) seems to rest with both the hotel and FEMA: Hotel management claims it's merely a mix-up, while FEMA admits that the hotel reimbursement program is "nearly impossible to police." That's a frightening thought given that FEMA is still paying 1,700 hotels around the country to house 53,000 people—even, it seems, if there still no longer on premise.

I hope this is just an isolated incident and that other similar examples of mismanagement or fraud don't come to light. The hotel industry has acted honorably and at times, heroically in the aftermath of this disaster. It would be a shame if the public's last post-Katrina perception of the industry were an ugly one.

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