Even if you were nowhere near the paths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, if you are a U.S. taxpayer, you are a victim.
A government audit released Monday shows that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was defrauded of potentially billions of dollars because it made duplicate emergency assistance payments to thousands of people, and potentially thousands of other people took advantage of flaws in FEMA’s registration process to obtain more than one payment. In some egregious cases, single individuals defrauding FEMA received as many as 23 $2,000 checks.
Government investigators working undercover were able to exploit flaws in FEMA’s registration system to obtain $2,000 expedited assistance checks and debit cards using fake addresses and Social Security numbers.
The Government Accountability Office said in its report (PDF) that it identified weaknesses in — or non-existent — anti-fraud measures, and used data-mining techniques to identify thousands of people who were either given too much money by mistake and thousands more who intentionally defrauded FEMA.
On Monday, Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff denied allegations that the department pays too much attention to the threat of terrorist attacks to the detriment of natural disaster response. “I unequivocally and strongly reject this attempt to drive a wedge between our concerns about terrorism and our concerns about natural disasters,” he said.
And also today, 12,000 families will lose their hotel rooms when FEMA stops making direct payments for those rooms. FEMA says that these families can use upcoming payments to pay for the rooms, but the families say it won’t be enough money.