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FEMA seeks millions in aid overpayments

The money is less than 1 percent of what was given to the state.

Associated Press
Published July 4, 2005


FORT MYERS - The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked thousands of Floridians whose homes were damaged by last summer's four hurricanes to give back more than $27-million in aid overpayments, a newspaper reported.

FEMA earlier this year began mailing letters to residents in efforts to recoup the overpayments from people who received federal aid after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne hit Florida last August and September.

According to data supplied to the News-Press of Fort Myers through a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency detailed 6,579 cases in which they say people owe $27,220,234.

Many of the problems stem from FEMA providing money for items that were later covered by property insurance policies, more than one person from the same household applying for benefits, and processing errors.

Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said that the $27-million is less than 1 percent of the more than $5-billion FEMA has committed to Florida's hurricane recovery.

Andrews said recouping overpayments is a normal part of the disaster assistance process. Those who are asked to repay are informed they have the option to appeal, she said.

"Our mission is to get in there and help out and address immediate needs - food, shelter, clothing," Andrews said. "Months after or quite a while after, we go back and, as is our obligation to the taxpayers, we try to recoup funds that were distributed in error."

FEMA is asking one Escambia County household to return $50,723, saying the award was made for a home that was not a primary residence. An additional 63 households, the agency said, owe more than $20,000 each, the newspaper reported.

The agency also wants repayments of $100 or less from 97 Florida households.

"I don't understand their reasoning,"said Sandra Witz, who has been asked to repay $719.69. "Every dime I got, every penny, every nickel, has gone back into my house."

[Last modified July 4, 2005, 01:42:23]


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