Commentary: Is It Fair to Ask for Money Back That Was Never Understood to Be a Loan?

If you’re FEMA, then yes, it is.

Posted: 06/01/2011 06:59 PM EDT
Filed Under Hurricane Katrina

FEMA, Hurricane Katrina, hurricane

Graphic shows the total amount of money FEMA seeks to reclaim from disaster victims post-Hurricane Katrina. (Image: The Associated Press)

 

We all remember the day almost six years ago when it looked like World War III in America. It was called Katrina.

After the storm hit, it wasn’t money for what people were asking, but the necessities: food, water, shelter. And how could we ever forget those images of people going into diabetic shock?

But more so than the initial damage that was caused, there was no denying that our fellow Americans would need assistance for years to come. In fact, there are many parts of the city that have yet to be repaired or replaced today. No hospital exists in East New Orleans, and because recovery efforts have been slow to non-existent, it’s no surprise that the state’s population has dropped 29 percent to 343,829, according to the 2010 Census.

However, what about those people who did stay behind and try to build back up the pieces of what was once their life? Those, like 56-year-old Diane Ridgley. Ridgley’s duplex was destroyed and she literally walked away with nothing. She says she used the $17,000 FEMA gave her to replace her personal belongings and pay for rent. But now, years later, FEMA wants that money back. They say she received it “in error.”  

Ridiculously enough, it wasn’t just one victim, but FEMA is investigating 154,000 victims. Once they are identified they will have at least 30 days to pay back the money—many whose sums amount to over thousands of dollars—or the victims can appeal to apply for a hardship waiver.

Whether they are issued a waiver or not, could the hardships that these Americans endured even be replaced with a price? Moreover, FEMA never issued the money as a loan, or with a loan agreement, and those who received the funds “in error” are just finding out now, years later.

It’s as if I was giving a much needed gift, but asked for it back because it wasn’t a holiday. Sounds messy to me.

Also, let’s not forget how late the money was to arrive in New Orleans.

The money was so delayed that then-Mayor Ray Nagin said, "People need to get off their fricking a**es and get me some g*dd&^mn resources. We are sitting here on day five of the US's worst natural disaster and people are still dying. All I need is a couple of hundred extra troops and buses, it's a national disgrace."

And a natural disgrace, that and this, was and is.

As forecasters predict an upcoming above-average Atlantic storm season with three to six major hurricanes, over at BET.com, we’re putting FEMA on advanced notice: get your funds together.

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