FORT MYERS, Fla. – The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked thousands of Floridians whose homes were damaged by last summer's four hurricanes to give back more than $27 million in aid overpayments.
FEMA earlier this year began mailing letters to residents in efforts to recoup the overpayments from people who received federal aid after Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne hit Florida last August and September.
According to data supplied to The News-Press of Fort Myers through a Freedom of Information Act (search) request, the agency detailed 6,579 cases in which they say people owe a total of $27.2 million.
Many of the problems stem from FEMA providing money for items that were later covered by property insurance policies, more than one person from the same household applying for benefits or from processing errors.
Nicol Andrews, a FEMA spokeswoman in Washington, pointed out that the $27 million is less than 1 percent of the more than $5 billion FEMA has committed to Florida's hurricane recovery.
"Our mission is to get in there and help out and address immediate needs — food, shelter clothing," Andrews said on Sunday. "Months after or quite a while after, we go back and, as is our obligation to the taxpayers, we try to recoup funds that were distributed in error."
Andrews said those who are asked to repay have the option to appeal.
FEMA is asking one Escambia County household to return $50,723, saying the award was made for a home that was not a primary residence. An additional 63 households owe more than $20,000 each, the newspaper reported.
The agency also wants repayments of $100 or less from 97 Florida households.
Sandra Witz, a single mom whose Punta Gorda home was damaged by Hurricane Charley, has been asked to repay $719.69 and said she doesn't have the money to do so.
"I don't understand their reasoning," Witz told The News-Press. "Every dime I got, every penny, every nickel, has gone back into my house."