FEMA Demands Refund Of Aid Money From Senior Citizens Displaced By Hurricane Sandy

November 10, 2014 | Rhett Jones

FEMA, the government agency responsible for disaster relief, wants a refund from a number of senior citizens in Queens for the money that was provided in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

At least a dozen residents at Belle Harbor Manor, an assisted living facility, spent four months in emergency shelters after the destruction wrought by Sandy. They say that aid workers encouraged them to sign up for relief funds and told them that there were no strings attached. Now they’re receiving bills for thousands of dollars because FEMA claims they were ineligible.

Robert Rosenberg, 61, suffers from a spinal disability and says that he spent the aid money on food and clothing while he was shuffled into temporary housing. FEMA says that he shouldn’t have received the funds because they were only to be used on shelter, and since Rosenberg was staying in publicly funded shelters, he owes them $2,486 by November 15th.

FEMA has been on a mission to recoup funds that were misappropriated. As of September, 850 households had been asked to return a collective $5.8 million. At the moment, 35 seniors at Belle Harbor Manor have been asked to return a total of $108,598. The elderly and disabled victims say that they specifically asked aid workers if the money had to be spent in a specific way, but they were told it was to help with anything. Now they find themselves on a fixed income, unable to provide the funds for their debt.

The potential abuses that occurred in the chaos surrounding Sandy are surely a problem, but when one considers the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to experimental projects like Rebuild By Design ($335 million), the prospect of penalizing elderly people who spent four months living on cots seems to be not only petty, but criminal.

(Photo: Roman Iakoubtchik)