Some Ohioans could be forced to repay FEMA their tornado relief benefits

A Year of Recovery

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Some Ohio tornado survivors may have to pay back the disaster recovery money they got from FEMA. The agency says some people have been overcompensated, and FEMA could discover more cases in the next few weeks. 

FEMA is downplaying the number of cases, saying it’s a small fraction of the total applicants in the 11 disaster-declared counties. But their purpose is to only help people who don’t have other options, so these alleged overpayments are to people who either don’t need the money or are misusing it. 

Erin Gaddis, a media relations specialist with FEMA, says, “There are some cases where individuals may be allocated additional funds but that’s not the norm at all.” 

So far 6 Ohioans have been notified they need to repay their FEMA benefits. Gaddis says, “FEMA has the authority under several federal laws to seek reimbursement for any funds that may have been improperly distributed.” 

There are four reasons for FEMA to recoup money. Two of them can be simple mistakes like if an overpayment was made in error or if the payments duplicate insurance benefits. But the other two reasons could be intentional, like if the money was inappropriately spent or in the case of fraud. 

Gaddis says, “This is not a common part of the process. We do have very strict steps and processes to ensure that fraud does not take place.” 

If you get a letter alerting you to an overpayment, you have 60 days to appeal and explain your case. “Writing an explanation explaining why you feel this notice of potential debt letter is not valid for you.” FEMA will then have 90 days to review and make a final determination. 

FEMA cannot say exactly why these six letters were sent out, but a common reason is the duplication of benefits, essentially paying someone who has already gotten an insurance payout. 

Gaddis says, “We really want to ensure that we are not duplicating assistance so that every individual has a fair chance to receive disaster assistance.” 

As of Wednesday, FEMA has approved 1,382 people for disaster relief benefits, paying out a total of $3.5 million. The Small Business Administration has approved $14.1 million in loans. 

The deadline to apply for aid is August 19th. 

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