No one will ever forget how poorly the government handled Hurricane Katrina when it hit New Orleans in 2005, and now to add insult to injury, FEMA is asking victims to return money they received from the natural disaster.
More than 83,000 debt notices have been mailed out to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma who FEMA says it paid improperly. The federal agency is attempting to recover more than $385 million, or roughly $4,600 per person. The amount represents slightly less than 5% of the roughly $8 billion that FEMA distributed after the storms, and according to congressional testimony, at least a portion of the overpayments were due to FEMA employees’ own mistakes such as clerical errors and failing to interview applicants.
Despite the fact that the improper payments weren’t the recipients fault, FEMA says it is required by law to make an effort to recover the money. Last week Congress approved legislation that would allow the agency to waive most of the debts and FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen says they are reviewing the law’s provisions and developing a plan to implement them. As of now, it’s unclear how many recipients will benefit from the new law, and so far about 30% of the notice recipients have appealed their debt notices. Victims may also ask for a waiver due to economic hardship or set up a payment plan.
“It is important for any individual who has received a recoupment notice to know that these letters are the start of a conversation with FEMA, not the end,”Racusen says. But with so many people still coming to terms with the devastation of losing everything they owned, not to mention the people they loved, you would think FEMA would have forgiven the debts auotmatically.
What do you think about what FEMA did? Are they right to try to recover the funds they inappropriately distributed?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.