Here we are over four years later and the victims of Hurricane Katrina still haven’t fully recovered from the disaster. It’s shameful enough that the original response to the tragedy was so poor, and disgusting that so little has been to done to fully restore the area, but now the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is trying to repeal “accidental” payments to folks who they say should not have received them in the first place; to date the agency has mailed out 83,000 debt notices to prior aid recipients.
From the Associated Press:
FEMA is seeking to recover more than $385 million it says was improperly paid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. The debts, which average about $4,622 per recipient, represent slightly less than 5 percent of the roughly $8 billion that FEMA distributed after the storms. At least some of the overpayments were due to FEMA employees’ own mistakes, ranging from clerical errors to failing to interview applicants, according to congressional testimony.
But the agency says it is required by law to make an effort to recover improper payments, even if the recipient wasn’t at fault. Last week, however, Congress approved legislation that would allow FEMA to waive many of the debts. President Barack Obama signed the measure — part of a $1 trillion spending package — into law last Friday.
The part that’s hard for me to swallow is the assumption that anyone has the time or resources to handle the legal and accounting mess that comes with straightening out financial matters. Further, who is to say that FEMA’s eligibility requirements were accurate? When I think of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina I have a hard time believing that most of those living in or near the eye of the storm couldn’t use a few thousand dollars to repair their homes or even tide their budgets over until the local economy could get back to where it needed to be.