The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it has overpaid more than 6,000 Floridians whose homes were damaged by last summer's four hurricanes, and the agency wants more than $27 million back.
FEMA is trying to recoup overpayments from 6,579 people who received federal aid after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne hit Florida last August and September.
FEMA said it paid for items like generators and appliances that were later covered by property-insurance policies. Processing errors were also blamed for some of the overpayments, and in some cases, more than one person from the same household applied for benefits.
Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, told The News-Press of Fort Myers that the $27 million being recovered is less than 1 percent of the more than $5 billion FEMA has committed to Florida.
Flora Welsh, 72, and Judith Ellsworth, 60, of Indian River County returned $4,000 of the $4,800 in FEMA money they received last fall to recover from Hurricane Jeanne, according to TCPalm.com, which carries news of Florida's east coast from Sebastian to Jupiter. "I have been told that, because we got $23,000 from our insurance company, that (FEMA) would not pay for (repairing) the residence," Ellsworth said.
But now they are trying to appeal FEMA's demand for a refund, seeking $1,320 to cover the expense of evacuating to an apartment owned by Welsh's son in Jefferson City, Mo., after Hurricane Frances. That, plus the $9.63 in interest that FEMA charged them.
"That's just on principle," Welsh said of the interest. "That's ethics."
Eugene Brezany, FEMA public affairs officer in Orlando, told TCPalm.com, "We do explain that there can be no duplication of benefits. In a nutshell, we were trying to provide funds to people in an expeditious manner. He added, “On the other hand, it's taxpayers' money. So we have to look very carefully at how we distributed those funds, in an extensive review of funding. When people settle with their insurance company, we expect to be reimbursed."