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Some in Louisiana asked to repay disaster aid

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Written by
Deboarh Barfield Berry

WASHINGTON ā€” Federal emergency officials are sending letters to thousands of disaster victims, including some in Louisiana, looking to recoup millions of dollars in aid they say was improperly distributed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency initially aims to collect more than $4 million from 887 Louisiana residents, and more letters will likely to be sent to victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to vote Thursday on a measure that would give FEMA more authority to waive some of the debt. Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor said the FEMA letters could be upsetting for disaster victims.

“For folks who have been through a disaster, whether it’s a flood, tornado or ice storm or hurricane and FEMA rolls in and says, ‘We are going to do X, Y, and Z for you.’ (Then) they do it,” said Pryor, a Democrat. “I think it’s very unfair for them to come back” years later and ask for the money back.

FEMA began sending 5,560 letters in March to disaster victims across the country asking them to repay a total of about $21 million in funds that were mistakenly awarded. Improper payments could include those made because FEMA made a mistake or because someone provided inaccurate information or had received duplicative benefits.

The cases don’t involve fraud, FEMA officials said.

About 160,000 people received improper payments totaling $643 million since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, according to a Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report released last December. The agency recommended FEMA speed up the collection process.

Federal officials are still reviewing tens of thousands of cases that include aid given to hurricane victims. FEMA said it’s required by law to recoup funds mistakenly paid, no matter who is at fault.

Rachel Racusen, a FEMA spokeswoman, said, “FEMA, along with other federal agencies, has long been legally required by Congress to identify any cases in which federal assistance may have been improperly distributed and to recover those funds, even in cases of human error or mistake.”

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Written by demon53

May 20, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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