FEMA to Katrina Victims: Give the Money Back

More than six years later, the agency says it overpaid and is sending out bills. 

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A home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (Joshua Lott/Associated Press)

Last week, more than six years after Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began mailing out notices to victims of the storm that ripped through the Gulf region. The message: Give us our money back.

FEMA is asking more than 83,000 recipients of aid to reimburse the government an average of $4,622 each, BlackAmericaWeb reports. The agency says that clerical or employee errors may have resulted in some victims receiving more compensation than what may now be allocated.

David Bellinger, a 63-year-old legally blind former New Orleans resident who moved to Atlanta after his home was leveled by the storm, said he "nearly had a stroke" when he received his $3,200 bill, with 30 days to pay. "I'm totally blind; I subsist entirely on a Social Security disability check. If I have to pay this money back, it would pretty much wipe out all the savings I have."

We're sure he's not the only one in that situation. At least one elected official agrees. "Disaster victims shouldn’t be punished because FEMA is dysfunctional," said Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, rejecting a claim made by the agency that it is required by law to recover all improper payments, even if the recipient was not at fault. "Most of these families facing recoupment are honest survivors facing incredible challenges who used the funds for legitimate and urgent disaster-related needs."

She has recently introduced and sponsored a bill since signed into law by President Obama that would allow FEMA to waive many of the debts now burdening the already afflicted. Hopefully it will do so.

Instead of chasing down money from people who had no role in whatever errors were made, and almost certainly aren't in a position to repay, FEMA would be much better off preparing to avoid repeating the errors it made in its response to Katrina.

Read more at BlackAmericaWeb.

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