Tags: fema | sandy | disaster aid | overpayment

FEMA Tells Sandy Victims to Return $24M in Disaster Aid

Image: FEMA Tells Sandy Victims to Return $24M in Disaster Aid
Victims of Superstorm Sandy recieve aid from a Red Cross mobile distribution center. (John Moore/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 13 Apr 2015 08:37 AM

More than 3,600 people who received benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the wake of Superstorm Sandy are getting demands to repay at least part of the money, with the federal agency saying it overpaid their storm recovery funds.

About 2 percent of the families or individuals in five states who received aid after the powerful hurricane hit the Northeast coast in 2012 are now getting demands from FEMA in hopes of recouping about $24 million, reports NPR.

According to the agency, each family on average will have to pay back more than $6,000, and more of half of those families say they make less than $50,000.

"Is it a difficult situation? Absolutely," says Alex Amparo, FEMA's Deputy Assistant
Administrator for Recovery. "Our mission is providing assistance; our primary mission is not recouping dollars."

Amparo said FEMA gets money out as quickly as possible to victims, and then later conducts an audit and sends demands for the money it says it overpaid. In this case, the demands are coming over two years later, stunning many people who are getting the bills.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone has proposed bipartisan legislation that will waive debts deemed to be FEMA's fault, and says the victims "didn't intentionally do anything wrong."

"It's two and a half years almost since the storm, and there are many people who are still living in rental housing or with their friends and relatives and who haven't been able to rebuild," he told NPR. "It doesn't make any sense to now ask these people to now give the money back."

A similar situation happened after Hurricane Katrina, when FEMA sent 90,000 demands for victims to repay the government, and Congress in 2011 passed legislation that allowed the agency to forgive the debts.

Liz Treston, 54, who lives in hard-hit Long Island, New York, told NPR she got one of the bills for more than $4,000.

Treston was disabled in a diving accident when she was in her 20s and uses a wheelchair to get around. After her house's basement was flooded in the storm, she and her family got a $7,000 grant to stay in a hotel while the house was repaired, and another $4,500 to replace the appliances and other belongings that were destroyed in her basement.

She told NPR she also got a Small Business Administration loan to replace other items.

FEMA said that the loan and the grant meant she got payment twice for the same thing. Treston's appeal of the bill was denied, and she ended up repaying FEMA with an American Express card.

As the FEMA demands are considered a federal debt, the money can be recouped from income tax returns, Social Security or, for people like Treston, through disability checks.

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More than 3,600 people who received benefits from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of Superstorm Sandy are getting demands to repay at least part of the money, NPR reported.
fema, sandy, disaster aid, overpayment
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2015-37-13
Monday, 13 Apr 2015 08:37 AM
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