If you ask most folks in New Orleans about the involvement of The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) immediately after Hurricane Katrina struck, they’ll probably have a laundry list of complaints. The organization that was criticized for slowly (and, in some cases, barely) supplying necessary housing, food and medical support is now excusing the victims of having to pay back their debt. In 2011 FEMA sent out debt notices to Katrina, Rita and Wilma victims in an attempt to recover the $385 million that they claim was mistakenly paid out in 2005.
According to their federal testimony, the overpayments to hurricane survivors were made out of FEMA employee mistakes. This week it was announced that FEMA would be sending out 90,000 letters next week to inform recipients that they’re eligible for waivers. It’s estimated that on average the debt amounts to $4,622 per recipient, totaling less than 5 percent of the total $8 billion the agency distributed to victims that year. Those receiving letters must respond by explaining why collecting the debt would cause them "serious financial hardship”, they must not make more than $90,000 and improper payment claims can’t involve fraud on the victims part.
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."
Does this effort by the federal agency deserve a handclap or side eye for even trying to claim money from taxpaying victims in the first place? For those who did request a little bit more money than they should have…can we blame them? Or should they repay it no matter what?