Report faults FEMA on aid
By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The federal government gave $31
million in disaster relief for Hurricane Frances to 12,000 Florida
residents who were not directly hit by the hurricane last fall and
may not have deserved any money, government auditors say in a report
to be released Wednesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
didn't adequately inspect homes and used a system of aid payments
"susceptible to potential fraud, waste and abuse," says the report
by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.
The findings are the latest to point at
questionable disaster relief payments made by FEMA. Audits dating
back at least a decade have shown similar problems elsewhere. The
agency was the target of millions of dollars in phony claims after
the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The latest report said that FEMA paid $15,742
for three funerals without any proof that the deaths were
disaster-related. The agency also paid $2.7 million to repair 2,180
homes even though inspectors didn't have proper documentation, and
residents were reimbursed $192,592 for chainsaws, generators and
other unverified expenses, the report said.
In addition, FEMA acknowledged Tuesday that at
one point after the September 2004 storm, an inspector took aid
applications at a fast food restaurant and never bothered to check
The report and the agency's performance in
handling the disaster will be the subject of a Senate hearing
Last year's problems began when FEMA declared
Miami-Dade county a disaster area before assessing whether it had
sustained any significant damage, the report says. Miami-Dade faced
tropical storm winds of 47 mph, which can be severe but are
significantly less than hurricane winds of 74 mph or more. Some
areas of the county, particularly low-income neighborhoods, suffered
Michael Brown, the chief of FEMA, defends his
agency's decisions. "I'd do it all over gain the same way," he said.
"I was there. I saw it. It was the right thing to do."
So far, 14 people have been indicted for making
"It's outrageous to discover that taxpayer
dollars that were supposed to be going to provide assistance to
legitimate victims instead went to people who suffered no damage at
all," said Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairwoman Susan
Brown said FEMA had to quickly hire and train
2,000 extra inspectors to help handle four hurricanes that hit
Florida last fall. He cited the cases of two inspectors — including
the man who took aid applications at the fast food restaurant — who
were fired after an investigation.
Among the problems outlined in the federal
audit: FEMA paid $4,500 for a victim who drowned in a pool even
though it was ruled an accident.