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Posted on Tue, Oct. 04, 2005

FEMA wants to recoup $30.3 million from Floridians

Associated Press

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - The federal government has asked more than 7,600 Floridians in 60 counties to return $30.3 million in emergency hurricane aid.

Most of the payments the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants returned is due to insurance settlements. By law, FEMA cannot duplicate coverage provided by insurance, spokesman Jim Homstad said.

The measure will mostly affect St. Lucie County, which was battered by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne last year. Residents there are being asked to return $3.7 million. In Palm Beach County, FEMA is seeking nearly $3.4 million.

In a small number of cases, FEMA wants to recoup the money because of processing errors or duplicate approval of funds, Homstad said.

The agency has come under fire by lawmakers for allegedly paying millions of dollars to residents who made fraudulent claims, while others were in need. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and other lawmakers have demanded full disclosure after fraud and waste were uncovered following the 2004 storms.

A group of Florida newspapers also have sued FEMA in federal court for access to records showing who received money. The newspapers want the names and addresses of people who shared in nearly $5.3 billion in payments to investigate whether they were fair and equitable.

FEMA has recouped more than $5 million of the $30,283,945 it is seeking. Officials expect it to take years to collect the payments, which are as much as $50,000.

Nearly all of Florida was affected last year when a record-setting four hurricanes slammed the state.