The agency said Tuesday that it will stop paying hotel bills by the end of the month for most of the families devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, even though housing advocates fear they won't have enough time to find other places.
Most of the people still staying in hotels and motels are in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency had previously set the December deadline as a goal to have evacuees out of hotels and into travel trailers, mobile homes or apartments until they find permanent homes.
Tuesday's announcement marked the first time the agency said it would cease directly paying for hotel rooms that have cost FEMA $274 million since the storms struck.
FEMA granted exceptions to evacuees in hotels in Louisiana and Mississippi, where there is a shortage of housing. Evacuees in those states have until Jan. 7 to find homes, said David Garratt, FEMA's acting director of recovery. He said 9,830 households remain in hotels in Louisiana and 2,508 in Mississippi.
"There are still too many people living in hotel rooms, and we want to help them get into longer-term homes before the holidays," FEMA Acting Director R. David Paulison said in a statement. "Across the country, there are readily available, longer-term housing solutions for these victims that can give greater privacy and stability than hotel and motel rooms."
"Those affected by these storms should have the opportunity to become self-reliant again and reclaim some normalcy in their lives," Paulison said.
After Dec. 1, most hurricane evacuees who aren't ready to leave hotels will have to pay the costs out of pocket — either with FEMA rental housing aid they receive or from their own funds.
Katrina hit on Aug. 29, followed by Rita on Sept. 24.
In Houston, Mayor Bill White demanded that FEMA grant a similar extension to the city as it moves 19,158 evacuees out of city hotels.
"We have moved more evacuees out of hotels than any other city has ever had in hotels," White said in a statement. "So we encourage those new to it to ask us, not tell us, how to do it."