Wednesday PM December 6th, 2006

Audit finds waste on aid for Hurricane Katrina evacuees...Internal BP documents from last year's deadly Texas City refinery explosion online...Federal judge says Enron investors may file amended complaint against Barclay's...

A new audit finds tens of millions of dollars still being wasted on aid for Hurricane Katrina victims. Federal investigators say that includes $17 million in bogus rental payments to people who had already received free trailers and apartments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recovered less than one percent of the $1 billion it wasted on fraudulent assistance after the August 2005 storm. The report by the Government Accountability Office paints a picture of an agency still struggling to find the balance between getting aid quickly to those in need and guarding against abuse. The audit found numerous aid applicants received duplicate rental aid. In one case, FEMA gave free apartments to ten people in Plano while sending them $46,000 to cover out-of-pocket housing expenses. Another $20 million was wasted on thousands of individuals who claimed the same property damage from both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. FEMA also paid at least $3 million to more than 500 ineligible foreign students in the stricken Gulf Coast.

The GAO found potential waste and fraud involving Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts overseen by FEMA, including the following: nearly $17 million in rental assistance payments to individuals living in trailers also paid for with FEMA funds; rental assistance payments to individuals living in apartments paid by city governments using FEMA funds; nearly $20 million to about 7,600 individuals who registered for both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita assistance using the same property; millions of dollars of payments to nonqualified people, including at least $3 million to more than 500 foreign students from four universities in Louisiana and Texas; FEMA also made improper payments to workers in the United States on temporary visa, people who are barred by law from receiving financial disaster assistance; the loss of 85 laptop computers, printers, global positioning devices and two flat-bottom boats because of poor inventory controls.

The Bush administration is challenging a court order requiring it to make housing payments to thousands of families whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon says confusing, often contradictory letters to hurricane victims from FEMA didn't explain why housing funding was cut. He said that violates the constitution and ordered the agency to restart the program immediately. FEMA says it will appeal that ruling. The government is still under a court order to make housing payments for people displaced by last year's storm. But the Association of Community Organizations for Reform now says in court documents that FEMA has refused to disclose its plans for restarting the program. FEMA may ask an appeals court to put the judge's ruling on hold while the appeal plays out.


Internal BP documents related to last year's deadly explosion at a Texas City refinery have been posted online. It's the first set of documents to be released to the public as part of a lawsuit settlement between the energy company and Eva Rowe. Rowe sued BP because both of her parents were among the 15 people killed in the March 2005 blast. The documents posted online include reports and e-mails that show budget cuts and a lack of leadership contributed to significant safety problems at the facility. They can be found online. BP spokesman Neil Chapman says the London-based oil company has already released much information about the accident, including results of a company investigation.


A federal judge has ruled that Enron investors may file an amended complaint against Barclay's in their $40 billion lawsuit against the bank. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon last July dismissed Barclay's from the civil suit, but now says the plaintiffs may file another complaint with more details about the British bank's transactions with Enron. The investors have netted more than $7 billion for investors, including $2 billion or more each from Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, J.P. Morgan and Citigroup. Other banks named in the lawsuit include Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse Group, Toronto Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada and Royal Bank of Scotland. Last month, Barclays agreed to pay about $283 million to settle a separate legal dispute with Enron's administrators.


Striking Goodyear workers and hundreds of others on picket lines are getting a little extra cash from their union. The United Steelworkers says it'll give a $100 Christmas bonus to the more than 12,000 workers on strike from Goodyear across the U.S. and Canada. Another 900 or so other workers striking or locked out from various companies will also be collecting the checks. The money is in addition to the weekly strike benefit the union pays the workers.


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