More than 7,300 people in areas hit by hurricanes last year, all of whom received payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are beginning to receive notices asking them to pay back money they should not have received. Residents are able to appeal the notice to repay FEMA.
FEMA has begun mailing letters to residents in effort to recoup the overpayments, which make up about 1 percent of the more than 600,000 people who received aid from the federal agency after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, Bill Carwile, FEMA federal coordinating officer told the Associated Press.
Many of the problems stem from FEMA providing money for items that were later covered by property insurance policies, more than one person from the same household applying for benefits and processing errors.
The amounts typically are hundreds to a couple of thousand dollars, Carwile said. The average amount residents received from FEMA was under $5,000.
The agency has always found itself in a position of having to ask people from money back after a disaster, he said.
“During (Hurricane) Andrew we had about an 8 percent recoupment rate. The average disaster now is down to 2 to 3 percent,” Carwile said. “These disasters, despite the fact that they’re the largest ones we’ve ever undertaken if you count all four together, we’ve got the lowest rate we’ve ever had of recoupment.”
“We weigh that responsibility of quickly delivering aid to those in distress and being 100 percent accurate. During Andrew, it took us about three months to get checks out to people and in this case we’ve been able to get them out in three days,” Carwile said.
Getting the money back isn’t always easy.
“Some people understand that there’s been an error, but they’ve spent the money. In those cases we try to work with them,” Carwile said. “If they don’t have a lump sum to repay us, we work out a very accommodating arrangement so they can do an installment plan to get it back.”
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