After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, many uttered the acronym “FEMA” as if it was a curse word.  Now, six years later the Federal Emergency Management Agency, blamed for it’s slow response to the storm, is telling victims to pay up.

According to The Associated Press, FEMA has so far sent out letters to thousands of residents seeking to reclaim over $22 million dollars. In the letters individuals are told they have at least 30 days to pay back money, appeal FEMA’s demand, compromise or to apply for a hardship waiver. The letters, which have infuriate many survivors, are the result of an internal effort to recoup aid the agency gave to victims of Katrina and other hurricanes during the 2005 season.

While hundreds have been convicted of hurricane-related fraud, FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said many of the cases under review involve mistakes by agency employees or the recipients themselves. Some payments will be deemed proper, some could be referred for fraud investigations and the rest will get letters telling them to pay back improper payments caused by human error, according to Racusen.

“Under our current leadership, strong protections have been put in place to greatly reduce the error rate of improper disaster payments,” Racusen said in a statement. The agency said it has slashed its error rate involving disaster payments from 14.5 percent after Katrina to about 3 percent in 2009.


In 2005, FEMA eased some of its regulations for granting out aid after political pressure on the agency and criticism of its sluggish response came to a head. The agency says that with a new hurricane season beginning today, it has to determine how much of the money it granted out as aid was given out by mistake or overpaid.

Luisa Mejia, 28, a native of New Oleans’ suburb, Metairie says that all she received from FEMA after being driven out her home by Hurricane Katrina was a check for $1,200 to buy clothes and food.  In an interview with The Associated Press, she said:

“We left with nothing but important papers and maybe two sets of clothes…We were in Atlanta with no money, living in a home with 40 people. I didn’t get the type of money that would make me rich from Katrina. For people who were honest like me, it’s crazy.”

The agency says it is currently reviewing over $600 million dollars of federal aid given to roughly 154,000 victims of Katrina and Hurricanes Rita and Wilma as well. The cases being reviewed represent 10 percent of the $7 billion dollars in aid FEMA granted out for relief.

  • dvine

    thought the only ones who had to pay the money back were the dumb assess that went and bought rims and $100 sneakers and shyt like that.. u know the bullshyt instead of the necessities..

  • MW

    While I agree with the sentiment, as some one who now lives in the city most affected, the people who should really pay FEMA back cannot. This city is much too poor for that. Now, let’s talk about government (city, state, and federal) rebuilding the city: it’s been six years and the only communities which seem to have new roads and homes are the ones which, before the storm, were well off. Citizens of New Orleans deserve better than that…

  • smartsx

    does America ask all that money back from Japan, Pakistan, or Haitian survivors? erm…no. so why is it asking it’s citizens? Someone shed some light onto this! :s

  • Leah

    After the BS that happened with the mishandling of the TARP money the US government is running low on funds…and now they wanna jack VICTIMS. This administration makes me regret the time i spent campaigning for the ‘dream’ they promised.

  • Alexandra

    Yeah something is going on, cause the USAID is now disputing the number of Haitian deaths, the Haitian gov’t reported after the earthquake.

  • Leah

    And this week congress voted not to rise the debt ceiling and they have until August to cut the budget, revote or generate new income….That was Monday now Tuesday revising the Haiti numbers and Wednesday asking for fema money back ummmmm!?

  • hello

    So happy fema screwed my family over even though we really needded it while giving peopel who didnt even live here the money..
    *evil grin*

  • TPerk

    No, but seriously, this is bull. After being called a “refugee” in my own country for months, then returning home only to have my single mother be rent gouged out of our apartment and begging for twice as long for assistance, they expect people to give money back. For fraud cases, I fully understand. But this is a bunch of bull and, I’m sure, everyone is absolutely fine with it. I mean, why do I pay taxes?

  • shalonndramarie

    Okay, let me get this right, they are actually asking people to pay back money they received due to a Natural disaster? I cannot believe these agencies are putting these people through the ringer like this! 6yrs later and they feel all is well enough to start sweating these people over money? 1,200 hundred dollar’s isn’t enough to help a single person, yet alone a whole displaced family, It’s like when Sadam use to kill Innocent Men in front of their families, and then turn around and make the family pay for the bullets he used. It’s really sad.

  • au napptural

    I see the gov’t is fine with dropping billions in unncessary warfare but is trying to gouge citizens who were victims of a natural disaster…I see they want the money back in 30 days, that’s about how long it took FEMA to respond in the first place. Smh

  • Mark W

    The answer to why this is happening can be found by researching “Agenda 21″.. There is an organized plan to bankrupt America. FEMA is likely involved in that agenda in a very deep way. The recent WikiLeaks cables bring Agenda 21 out of the realm of conspiracy theory and into the realm of signed agreements, care of GWB. Demanding aid money back is part of the plan to bankrupt Americans. The rest is well on it’s way of transferring our wealth to the third world.

  • Romeo

    I was a new orleans police officer in new orleans. I was constantly getting shot at, dealing with people dying on the streets, looters, and a whole lot more surreal acts. The FEMA group came in and had all of us fill out the forms for getting aid after we lost everything in our homes. My Home was flooded for over 9 months and everything was gone from the military, I am a disabled veteran, all my medals, certificates, photos memories, etc. All my wedding photos and my spouses stuff was gone. At the time my son was only 1 years old. We lost all his baby stuff and everything. My spouse evacuated with my family to Austin Texas, while I remained in NO for my job and I had a horrific time there dealing with the actions of less fortunate while working for only 25000 a year a a police officer, and by the way no people in the city meant no revenue and our checks were not even covered. Now we receive the assistance from FEMA to aid in our recovery. We received a 2000 check and then FEMA gave us another check totaling 20,528.27. Just yesterday I received a letter from FEMA Asking for this amount back as I was supposedly received payment from another agency or organization. WHAT OTHER ORGANIZATION? The only organization I dealt with was FEMA. This is the Obama Administration trying to steal from the poor and recoup what they dished out to the rich.

    No I am Jobless, as the economy is tanking and was laid off. My spouse is in the same boat. We have no income coming in. And Now a Collection for 20 grand. This is a great country we live in today.

  • Rebekah

    My house was damaged from Hurricane Rita and I spent the only money I had on costs while evacuating. It took months for all of us to be able to go back to work again. My daughter and I had NO money. FEMA went by my home and saw the damage (so they told me on the phone) and told me I was eligible for the check. I didn’t spend that money on RIMS. I needed that money. Eventually they took the tree out of our home but never fixed the damage. Some of our things were destroyed from water damage. Now they’re telling me that I have to give this money all because they’re broke? I don’t think so. I will be calling them on the phone tomorrow to tell them exactly what I think. Romeo, that’s some story. I hope things get better for you.

  • Misty

    I just received a letter from FEMA wanting the couple thousand dollars back that they gave us for food, clothing, and housing. The reason says ” occupancy not verified”. What the heck does that mean? The occupancy wasnt verified because it no longer existed after the hurricane. I am outraged at this letter, and need to figure out what to do. I will NOT pay back money that was given to me 6 years ago, for things that we legitmately needed.

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