FEMA is asking Sandy victims to repay millions of dollars it says were overpaid – nearly two years after the storm wiped out homes and businesses on the mid-Atlantic coast. Sandy was one of the worst storms in history to hit the East Coast, leaving thousands homeless even months afterward, as reported in this previous Inqusitr article.
Gary Silberman, featured in this AP video, received almost $17,000 in aid after the storm. Now FEMA wants it all back because he was living with his father, who also applied for assistance. According to FEMA regulations, only the homeowner is entitled to funds, even though Silberman claims he was living in a separate part of the home from his father and paying rent.
ABC News reports that FEMA paid out $1.4 billion to Sandy victims, and is currently investigating approximately 4500 households that it suspects were over or improperly paid. The federal agency has so far asked 850 of them to return a total of $58 million dollars.
FEMA’s “recoupment” campaign is targeted at households it believes got more money than allowed under its rules, but not necessarily in an attempt to defraud the system. Suspected fraud cases are being handled separately. In all, $53 million in funds is under review, about 3.7 percent of the total funds given out by FEMA.
There are several reasons FEMA is asking Sandy victims to return all or part of the funds they received. One is that their damaged homes were vacation properties or rentals, not their primary residences. Some are being asked to return the money because, like Silberman, they “double-dipped” – two or more members of the same household got aid – and others got money for damages that their insurance later paid for.
As of the end of July, the average refund was $6,987, an amount that many of the recipients could find difficult to come up with. About half of the households that FEMA is investigating had annual incomes of $30,000 or less.
Ann Dibble, director of the New York Legal Assistance Group storm response unit, is helping about a dozen families fight FEMA’s request to return funds. “For most people, the money is long gone and long ago spent on storm recovery,” Dibble said.
FEMA claims they have gotten better at making sure the aid goes to the right people after it overpaid nearly 90,000 households after Katrina. According to John Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant inspector general for emergency management oversight, “They have a lot more controls in place.”
The government has brought far fewer fraud cases against aid recipients after Sandy than it did after Katrina. Compared to the 768 charged with fraud after Katrina, federal prosecutors have only charged 7 people with fraud in the aftermath of Sandy.
Silberman is still fighting the agency’s request, but so far his appeals have been rejected.
“I lost my home. I lost everything,” he said. “I don’t have $17,000 to give back.
Photo courtesy of 7Online News