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Thursday, August 21, 2014
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Published: Monday, 4/18/2005

FEMA's wasteful generosity

More than a year after the storms passed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to lavish hurricane-relief cash on south Florida, so much so that you would think the President's brother were governor of the state or something.

We've documented this waste of taxpayer dollars before, but the money keeps cascading down from Washington like spring rain on the Everglades.

The latest proof: The official death toll from the four hurricanes that devastated Florida last year was 123. But FEMA, through March 15, had paid for 315 funerals at a cost of $1.27 million, an average of just over $4,000 each.

In Palm Beach County alone, the local medical examiner recorded eight storm-related deaths from hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. FEMA, however, paid 39 funeral claims.

Further south, Miami-Dade County was missed by Frances, which came ashore 100 miles up the coast. Nonetheless, the agency paid out $23,608 for five funerals, part of more than $30 million in what was obviously bogus storm aid. Four funeral claims were paid even after newspaper accounts last fall about the problem.

So far, 14 aid recipients in Miami-Dade have been charged with defrauding the federal government. But FEMA still refuses to provide a full accounting of its largesse with public funds, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The newspaper found that FEMA workers were aggressively soliciting Floridians to apply for the federal money, even providing sample letters for public officials to document alleged storm deaths. One FEMA employee sent a note to a medical examiner that said, "If you could just write one line FEMA could pay funeral expenses and help this family."

Expenses also were paid in other counties for a mentally ill man who committed suicide and for a morbidly obese woman with a heart condition. Neither death was storm-related.

Most of the FEMA money, $1.2 billion for the entire state, was paid out shortly before the Nov. 2 presidential election, lending an unmistakable political stench to the whole operation.

The fact that Miami-Dade County was added to the list of disaster areas by state officials - before the storms even blew by and without any local request - cements the view that federal officials were more interested in votes than helping out Florida citizens in need.

More details are expected when a U.S. Senate committee conducts a hearing next month. First on the witness list should be Michael Brown, FEMA's director, who needs to explain where all the money went and why.



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