The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is asking disabled, elderly and poor Hurricane Sandy victims to repay thousands of dollars each to recoup the disaster assistance the agency improperly doled out to them two years ago. In total, FEMA is trying to collect about $5.8 million in improper payments from the storm victims years after recipients have spent the money repairing their damaged properties, the Associated Press reports.
FEMA has consistently been criticized for botching its disaster relief efforts. In the latest of a spate of scathing federal audits, the Government Accountability Office released a report raising serious concerns about how the agency keeps track of the way it spends its money.
Related: FEMA’s $240M Disaster Relief System Doesn’t Work
The report specifically focuses on FEMA grant money that has been directed to fusion centers across the country. The centers are responsible for collecting threat information then analyzing how each region and agency should respond in an emergency situation. The Department of Homeland Security established the centers to help state and local governments better coordinate their emergency response efforts.
WHY THIS MATTERS
There are three obvious ways this story affects consumers:
• FEMA has not been able to manage its money, which usually means taxpayer dollars are being wasted. Collecting money from hard-hit Americans to make up losses is unacceptable.
• Outlays have not been timely or have been inadequate, causing more hardship and often more damage to homes and more stress to families.
• Consumer confidence in government is already at an all-time low. Incompetence by FEMA adds to the problem.
What isn’t coordinated, apparently, is how that money is being spent. In fact, the auditors found that “to date, FEMA has not been able to accurately account for and report on the amount of funds it has provided to centers.”
For its part, the auditors gave FEMA kudos for implementing new performance measures that can assess how well the grants are being used to meet their mission. And the auditors said DHS scores extremely high -- 92 out of 100 -- in its general assessments of the 78 fusion centers’ ability to receive, analyze and disseminate information to local, state and federal authorities.
However, when it comes to knowing how much money each center is receiving, the agency doesn’t seem to have a clue. “DHS cannot accurately account for federal funds provided to states to support these centers,” the report said. In 2012, for example, states inaccurately categorized about $60 million in projects at the centers, the auditors said.
“I am encouraged to see that fusion centers are performing well on their assessments. However, it is clear that there is still work to be done,” Senator Carper, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs said in a statement. “It needs to put into place a better method of tracking funding so we can better assess how much the federal government spends to keep these critical centers operational without wasting taxpayer dollars.”
Related: Auditors Still Finding Misused FEMA Katrina Funds
FEMA agreed to implement new guidance procedures to keep better tabs on the grant funding. Still, if the past is any indication, the agency may take some time to actually take up the recommendations. In fact, just this summer, the DHS IG reported that FEMA was still trying to collect Hurricane Katrina money from five years ago. And the same problems of offering up improper relief funding seem to be plaguing Sandy residents as well.
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