WASHINGTON -- The government is squandering tens of millions of dollars in Hurricane Katrina disaster aid, in some cases doling out housing payments to people living rent-free, investigators said yesterday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has recouped less than 1 percent of the $1 billion that investigators contend it squandered on fraudulent assistance, according to the Government Accountability Office. Its report describes the disaster relief agency's struggles to rush aid to those in need while also preventing abuse.
Last week, a federal judge in Washington ordered the Bush administration to resume housing payments for thousands of people displaced by Katrina. The ruling, which FEMA is appealing, cited a convoluted process for applying for help.
"Our work shows for individual assistance payments, at least tens of thousands of individuals took the opportunity to commit fraud," said Gregory Kutz, who works for the GAO, the congressional investigative arm.
In its latest report, the GAO found that numerous applicants received duplicate rental aid. In one case, FEMA provided free apartments to 10 people in Plano, Texas, while sending them $46,000 for out-of-pocket housing expenses.
FEMA spokesman Pat Philbin said the agency has sought to upgrade the registration process and strengthen its procedures for verifying names and addresses.
"FEMA continues to focus our rebuilding efforts to greatly improve our reliability, accuracy, and response in providing aid to disaster victims," Philbin said.