FEMA ‘Gets Tough’ On Floridians: Wants Overpayments Returned from Last Year

July 5, 2005

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has launched a “get tough” policy affecting thousands of Floridians, asking them to repay overpayments they received last year, and to vacate FEMA trailers they moved into after their homes became uninhabitable.

FEMA said more than $27 million was paid to Floridians for items that were later covered by property-insurance policies, more than one person from the same household applying for benefits, and processing errors. Homeowners used the funds to buy generators, replace appliances and find places to live.

FEMA recently mailed letters to Florida residents in an effort to recoup the overpayments.

Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the $27 million is less than 1 percent of the more than $5 billion FEMA has committed to Florida’s hurricane recovery.

Much of the problem can be traced to FEMA’s swift and generous response after Hurricane Charley on Aug. 13.

“After the hurricanes, FEMA issued money and didn’t ask many questions, which was great,” Lorraine Thompson, disaster paralegal for Rural Legal Services told The Fort Myers News-Press. “Now that they’ve had time to research where the money went, they realized that some people got money in error.”

FEMA has said the agency made duplicate payments, paid for items covered by insurance and gave money to people for rent when they could have stayed in their houses.

According to data supplied to The News-Press through a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency detailed 6,579 cases in which they say people owe $27,220,234.24.

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