published Sunday, May 29th, 2011

FEMA dollars come with warning

The millions of Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars given to help local tornado victims recover from the recent storms come with a word of warning: If you receive money from FEMA and insurance agencies for the same losses, you will be asked to repay FEMA.

“In a perfect world, it wouldn’t happen,” FEMA spokesmen Greg Hughes said. “But we absolutely tell them there is that possibility.”

Known as recoupment, the process can happen more than a year after the event, if FEMA receives information that duplicate benefits were paid.

To avoid duplication, applicants are asked at registration if they have insurance. Generally, applicants are asked to submit a copy of their insurance settlement or their denial letter in writing before they are eligible for FEMA assistance.

Hughes said disaster victims can help by making sure they have all their insurance paperwork with them when they file for claims.

These days, FEMA has changed its processes to avoid such duplication, spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said. Most of the notices now being sent are for disasters that happened years ago, she said.

“Recoupment is a process that Congress requires FEMA and other federal agencies to undertake, and we understand it raises many concerns, especially among current disaster survivors,” Racusen said.

“But in recent years, we have worked to fix many of the errors that led to recoupment actions in previous disasters. Under our current leadership, strong protections have been put in place to greatly reduce the error rate of improper disaster payments.”

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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