Evidently having forgotten its massive PR disaster from 2005, FEMA came a-knocking on the doors of old, poor, and infirm Superstorm Sandy victims last month, demanding that they return thousands of dollars in aid that was not used for its expressly stated purpose. The aid, given out to residents of an assisted-living facility, was spent on
drugs and alcohol food and replacing lost belongings instead of as payment for temporary shelter.
Altogether, at least 35 residents of Queens adult homes received at least $108,598 after the superstorm, mostly designated as aid for temporary housing. But the residents insist that volunteers who helped them apply for the money knew their housing was being taken care of by the state, and still insisted that the money was theirs.
“Everyone asked, ‘Do we have to pay this back later on? Is it a loan?’ They said, ‘No. It’s a gift from Obama,’” 61-year-old Robert Rosenberg told CBS News. “If I wasn’t eligible, then why give it to me in the first place? They knew we were living in an adult home. They knew our shelter was being paid for by the state. It’s not like we lied on the application.”
He is now being asked to return more than $2,400 in aid, despite the fact that he’s on a fixed income and has health problems, including a spinal disability. “The government is making a big mistake by going after people like us,” he said.
In fact, many residents of the Belle Harbor Manor assisted-living complex, where Rosenberg resides, also suffer from mild mental-health issues. During the storm, they were shuttled between the shelter at a Brooklyn armory, where they applied for aid, a cheap hotel, and an old psychiatric hospital. Now, Roseberg says FEMA is threatening to recoup the misallocated aid by dipping into his social security checks.
While Belle Harbor residents can appeal their collection notices, FEMA says the inquiry is a standard one into erroneous payments — even if they were doled out to needy, ill people who may have not been properly told what the money was for.
"FEMA remains committed to working with applicants and ensuring they have an understanding of the options available to resolve their debt, which include making a payment, filling an appeal, requesting a compromise, and establishing a payment plan," FEMA spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre told Fox News.