A spokeswoman says FEMA always audits benefits disbursements after federally declared disasters, and they always find mistakes. On average, 2 to 3 percent of all disbursements were either overpayments, duplicated payments in cases where people got insurance benefits and FEMA benefits, which isn't allowed, wrongful payments due to processing mistakes, and a small number of fraudulent claims. FEMA spokeswoman Hannah Vick says one point seven million households got disaster benefits last year, and the audit found between 35,000 and 54,000 households got benefits they shouldn't have, and that money must be paid back.
"During a disaster, FEMA's highest priority is helping the people who need it most as quickly as possible. But because disaster assistance is taxpayer money, FEMA is responsible and is careful to make sure that funds are distributed properly and appropriately, and that's what we're doing with recoupment process".
Vick says FEMA is sending letters to all the affected people telling them the money has to be paid back now or as soon as possible and explaining how to go about it. People can file an appeal.
"We really encourage folks to start the payment plan even if they're going to appeal the decision. Because after 30 days, interest will kick in, but if they start the payment plan before then, and then appeal, and perhaps the decision is overturned, then there won't be any kind of penalty."
There's more detailed information on the FEMA benefits recoupment program in a link on our website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.