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FEMA wants money back from 2005 hurricane season

4 years ago June 01, 2011 Jun 1, 2011 Wednesday, June 01 2011 Wednesday, June 01, 2011 9:45:18 PM CDT in News
Source: WBRZ
By: Kristy Davis

BATON ROUGE- FEMA is asking for 10-percent of the money back that it doled out during the 2005 hurricane season.

FEMA wrote checks to thousands in Louisiana after the storms in 2005.

The government organization passed out $7 billion to residents in Louisiana after the storms in 2005, and more than $600 million could be returned.

FEMA says the money belongs to tax payers. And they say no matter if the claims were fraudulent or if FEMA made mistakes, the organization will get its money back.

But this is not sitting well with people who needed help after the 2005 storms.

Shannon Green remembers the struggle to qualify for the aid needed after she was displaced from her home during Hurricane Katrina. She told News 2 she had to fight with FEMA for over a year to receive the aid.

In a statement to News 2, FEMA representative Rachel Racusen said, "FEMA is legally required to find cases where money was improperly given out and get the money back, even if FEMA made the mistake."

The agency is reviewing some 154,000 cases. FEMA says the number of letters that actually go out could be less than the expected 154,000. There will be an appeals process for people who want to fight the return.

FEMA's entire response to News 2 is below:

I just tried you to follow up on your call earlier but couldn't get through. At any rate - a few things, on background, to explain about the AP story - while we do expect that the notices may start going out in the coming months, we are still doing case by case reviews of each case, so the number of notices that eventually goes out may be significantly lower than the 150,000 figure cited in the AP story. Does that make sense?

Here is a quote you can attribute to me, as a FEMA Spokeswoman:

"We are committed to serving disaster survivors and communities as effectively as possible, while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. FEMA, along with other federal agencies government-wide, has long been legally required by Congress to identify any cases in which federal assistance may have been improperly distributed and to recover those funds, even in cases of human error or mistake.

"In 2007, as a result of a lawsuit filed under the previous administration, FEMA's recoupment efforts were suspended. Since then, FEMA has made key improvements to the recoupment process so that it is fair, easy to understand for disaster survivors, and includes ample opportunities for survivors to appeal FEMA decisions. As required by law, we are now using this improved system to notify individuals that may have received improper payments. FEMA is committed to working with each of these individuals if they feel they have received these notices in error or have questions about their case.

"Under our current leadership, strong protections have been put in place to greatly reduce the error rate of improper disaster payments. These protections are designed to better serve disaster survivors and reduce the rate of recoupments in future disasters.

"As Administrator Fugate has lawmakers and other stakeholders in recent months, FEMA is committed to working with anyone who has concerns about the recoupment efforts that Congress requires us to undertake. Our priority is to make sure we can continue to serve both disaster survivors and taxpayers as fairly and effectively as possible and we are committed to working with any individual who feels they have received one of these notice of debt letters in error or has questions about their case. We encourage individuals who have already received notice of debt letters to contact FEMA at 1-800-816-1122."

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