FEMA to Waive Debts of Hurricane Katrina Victims

The agency plans to waive millions it may have sent to hurricane victims by mistake.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency will waive some payments mistakenly given to victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, according to the Washington Post. Some of the overpayments to aid recipients were caused by FEMA employees' own mistakes, according to congressional testimony.

The debts, which average out to $4,622 per recipient, totaled less than 5 percent of the total $8 billion the agency distributed to victims of Katrina and other storms in 2005.

The waiver, which will be included in approximately 90,000 letters scheduled to be sent out by FEMA next week, will give recipients 60 days to respond and request a waiver. The waiver applies only to disasters declared between Aug. 28, 2005, and the end of 2010. In their responses, disaster victims must explain why collecting the debt would cause them "serious financial hardship." Only those with incomes below $90,000 are eligible for a full waiver. Households earning more than $90,000 may be eligible for a partial waiver. The improper payment can't involve any fraud or misrepresentation by the recipient.

Last year, to much controversy, FEMA sent out debt notices to recover more than $385 million that was improperly paid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005.

Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who helped push this bill through Congress, praised FEMA's move. "This announcement will bring great relief to many honest disaster survivors who never intended to misuse funds or take anything to which they were not entitled," Landrieu said in a statement. "To have forced people who experienced great tragedy to pay large sums of money back to the government because of someone else's mistake would have been incredibly unfair."

Read more at the Washington Post.

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