$643 million we’ll never get back

Posted on January 4, 2011

Federal Emergency Management Agency

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Although FEMA says it’s dedicated to collecting the $643 million in improper payments due to “fraud, FEMA errors, and other mistakes,” does anyone really think we’ll see this money returned to the federal coffers after three years has already gone by and there’s no one willing to sign on the dotted line to make it happen?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn’t tried to recoup about $643 million in improper payments made to victims of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters in the wake of a judge’s order more than three years ago, according to a government audit issued Monday.

The improper payments have gone uncollected for more than three years because FEMA hasn’t given its final approval to a new process for recovering the money, auditors found in a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office.

The federal agency has distributed more than $7 billion in disaster assistance payments since hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. An estimated 160,000 applicants received about $643 million in improper payments resulting from fraud, FEMA errors or other mistakes.

The article goes on to explain that back in 2007, when FEMA was trying to collect these funds,  a federal judge ordered the administration to stop collections until required changes were made.  Since late 2008 a process has been waiting for sign off by the FEMA administrator, but nothing’s been done.

A new process for recovering improper payments has been awaiting the approval of FEMA’s administrator since late 2008. Current Administrator Craig Fugate was confirmed by the Senate in May 2009.

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said the agency is “committed to being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars” and is completing plans to recoup misspent funds.

“FEMA is legally required to recover any improper payments,” she said in a statement. “A 2007 lawsuit challenging the recoupment process established under previous administrations, required us to suspend these efforts, and we have been working in the years since to rectify these problems.”

How can the administration claim they have been working to recoup these funds if the plan has been sitting by the wayside since 2008?

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