JANUARY 04, 2011
As if it weren’t enraging enough that the U.S. government made $125 billion in faulty payments last year, a new report says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has for years neglected its legal responsibility to recover $643 million paid fraudulently after natural disasters.As the Homeland Security agency that assists local governments and citizens in the aftermath of a disaster, FEMA generously provides support and money to rebuild, pay for living expenses, home repairs and medical costs. “Every year, millions of Americans face disaster and its terrifying consequences,” according to the agency’smission statement. With nearly 4,000 full-time employees and unlimited resources, the agency is fast and loose with taxpayer dollars.Over the years it has failed to properly scrutinize those who claim to qualify for disaster relief, leading to widespread waste and corruption. More than $7 billion were distributed to claims stemming from two major hurricanes that struck the GulfCoast in 2005. An estimated 160,000 applicants got $643 million in improper payments resulting from fraud and FEMA errors that were documented several years ago.The agency is legally required to recoup the money, but has failed to because it hasn’t created a collection process, according to a Homeland Security Inspector General report made public this week. It says that government lawyers drafted a plan to recover the improper payments in 2008, but FEMA’s chief hasn’t signed off on it. “Further delay only makes aging debts more difficult to collect,” the inspector general points out in the document.Just a few weeks ago, government figures revealed that Uncle Sam made about$125 billion in “improper payments” in fiscal 2010, a $15 billion increase from the previous year. The payments include nearly 90,000 checks of $250 each to inmates and people who had been dead for years, according to the findings of a Social Security Inspector General probe. More than 70,000 of the recipients were dead before the agency approved the payments of about $18 million and around 17,000 jailed criminals got $4.3 million.Dishing out cash to those who don’t qualify is so widespread in the government that President Obama issued an order last June commanding federal agencies to create a“Do Not Pay List” to protect taxpayer resources and stem abuse.
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