The Kilauea eruption displaced thousands of people throughout the Puna district in 2018.
FEMA says 1,002 people were provided with federal funds last year. Now, FEMA is asking 77 of those people to return those funds.
According to FEMA they requested the returns for various reasons including:
· Duplication of Benefits (DOB), which occurs when FEMA provides funds that were also previously received or available from another source, such as insurance or another Federal agency. A DOB may also occur when multiple applicants in a household receive an award for the same item or type of assistance.
· Assistance provided in error, which occurs when FEMA determines assistance was provided to the applicant for which they are not eligible, including exceeding the IHP maximum award.
· Misuse of funds, which occurs when FEMA determines the applicant spent the funds inappropriately (e.g., using assistance to pay off credit card debt).
· Fraud, which occurs when FEMA determines the applicant obtained the assistance through false means (e.g., false address, submitting false or altered documents, misrepresenting insurance coverage, etc.).
But some residents who received the letter feel they shouldn’t have been given the money in the first place.
Leilani Estates resident Paddy Daly has lived off the grid for five years now. He lost his home in Kalapana back in 2010. At that time, he didn’t file for assistance. This time around he did.
“They’re the experts, they’re the ones that deal in disasters, and they need to know who’s qualified and who’s not before they issue funds,” he said.
He said he explained his situation at the Red Cross Shelter telling them he didn’t have any proof of residency.
“I explained that I don’t have all this stuff [utility bills, landline number], but I was assured by the people who were taking the application that we were not discriminating due to these things, due to your status,” Daly said.
Daly has no landline, no mailbox, and no utility bills which are all things FEMA requires for proof of residency.
He runs off solar, catches rainwater and cooks with propane.
He explains he wrote an affidavit to FEMA explaining his living situation and thought that’s why they approved his funds.
“If they give out aid, they should be responsible in how they go about it and just like a banker isn’t going to give out high-risk loans its bad for the economy,” he said.
He says he rented a place in Hilo because his home was unsafe and covered in toxic fumes. Now, over a year later, he doesn’t have the money since he’s living paycheck to paycheck
“We may have been able to make due in other ways if we had known that we were getting a time bomb in the mail, a debt time bomb,” he said.
Those who received the letter can appeal within 90 days.
FEMA said in a statement that each applicant must agree to return funds to FEMA when the assistance provided by FEMA duplicates assistance from another source, was provided in error, was spent on expenses inappropriately, or was obtained through fraudulent means.
After every disaster, FEMA is required to review disaster assistance payments to ensure taxpayer dollars were properly spent. Those reviews often show a small percentage of specific cases where disaster assistance was given to applicants who were not eligible for some or all of the money they received.
FEMA says if anyone disagrees with the debt amount or reason, they may file an appeal. The appeal letter must be postmarked or a fax must be date stamped by FEMA no more than 60 days after the date shown on the Notice of Debt and must include the following information:
Full name, last four digits of Social Security Number, disaster number and FEMA application number on all pages of correspondence.
Written explanation of why you believe you do not owe the debt. In addition, your letter must be either notarized, include a copy of a state issued identification card, or include the following statement, “I hereby declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.” You must also sign the letter.
Copies of any documents or statements showing or explaining why you do not owe this debt.
You may request an oral hearing. The Notice of Debt letter explains what information is required to request such a hearing. FEMA will let you know if such a hearing will be granted, or if a decision can be made based on documents you sent.
You should address your appeal letter to:
FEMA Individuals & Households Program
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055
FEMA said they will make a final decision in writing within 90 days after receiving the appeal letter, or after the conclusion of an oral hearing. If successful, FEMA will reduce or cancel the debt and return any money paid to FEMA in excess of your final debt, including interest payments and other charges in excess of what you owe.