FEMA Asking Elderly, Disabled NYCers In Assisted-Living Home To Pay Back Thousands In Sandy Relief Funds

Spending months living in emergency shelters after being forced out of your home by Superstorm Sandy’s floodwaters sounds bad enough, but now disabled, elderly and poor adults living in an assisted-living center in New York City have been told by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that some of them have to pay back thousands of dollars they received in disaster aid.

According to the Associated Press, at least a dozen residents of the home on NYC’s Rockaway Peninsula have gotten notices recently from FEMA< saying that they'd been declared ineligible for aid checks that they received two years ago — money that many of them have already spent — because the money was only supposed to pay for temporary housing.

Those residents didn't ever have to pay for housing, as they were moved from one state-funded shelter to another. Yet they're expected to pony up the cash by Nov. 15, cash most of them don't have.

One 61-year-old resident suffering from a spinal disability and other chronic health problems says he has to send a check for $2,486 or file an appeal. He says he spent the money on food and clothing, things he needed after the storm, and was never told he was ineligible.

"We're on a fixed income. I don't have that kind of money!" he told the AP, saying FEMA workers urged him to apply for assistance in the aftermath of the storm, when residents were staying at an armory in Brooklyn. No one informed him it could only be used for housing, he said.

"Everyone asked, `Do we have to pay this back later on? Is it a loan?' They said, `No. It's a gift from Obama,'" he said. "If I wasn't eligible, then why give it to me in the first place? They knew we were living in an adult home. They knew our shelter was being paid for by the state. It's not like we lied on the application."

A FEMA spokesperson told the AP that the agency is required by law to recoup improper payments, but didn't directly address the residents' situation.

"FEMA remains committed to working with applicants and ensuring they have an understanding of the options available to resolve their debt, which includes making a payment, filling an appeal, requesting a compromise and establishing a payment plan," he said.

A local legal aid group that's worked with adult home residents in the past has offered to help this home's resident work on their appeals.

"Our position is that it would be an unbearable financial hardship and unjust," to require the residents to repay the money, said an attorney with MFY Legal Services.


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