By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Keep it:The Federal Emergency Management Agency began its audit of aid money doled out to victims of Hurricanes Katrina/Rita/Wilma last week, but if you are one of the people who used FEMA debit cards to buy booze, tattoos, sex toys or a trip to a massage parlor in Dallas County, never fear. FEMA isn't coming after you. A raging case of hepatitis maybe, but not the feds.
The acting director of FEMA's recovery division, Donna Dannels, said Friday that nearly 3.1 million people applied for government aid and that about $6.8 billion was awarded. Unfortunately, there are a few people who may have fraudulently applied for aid when they didn't deserve it, as well as the possibility that FEMA made paperwork mistakes or that the agency could have awarded money to fix items covered by insurance. (A mistake by FEMA? No way!)
Whatever the case, Dannels said FEMA usually has to recall about 3 percent of aid awarded during each audit of post-disaster programs. That means the government could be owed about $204 million, though Dannels hesitated to confirm even a ballpark figure.
Now you might think the guy who used a FEMA emergency debit card to pay for "unspecified services" at the Swedish Institute of Massage in Dallas (see Buzz, February 23) is gonna get the smackdown. And that "harness" from Condoms To Go is going to be confiscated, soon to appear in a catalog of surplus government property (or wrapped snuggly about the lusty thighs and torso of a bustier-wearing Dick Cheney. Yum.)
"This is not the kind of audit where we go out and look at their receipts for what they spent it on and if they abided by that," Dannels says. If John Doe of the Ninth Ward decided he'd rather have a few intimate moments off of Highway 183 than oh, say, groceries, he can--just as long as prostitutes weren't already covered by his insurance.
Letters are being sent to those who received misappropriated funds, and the recipients will have 30 days to repay before they're charged a 2 percent interest rate and their debts are turned over to the Department of the Treasury. But the initial audit could take several months, and Dannels said they just might get around to the receipt checking at a later date. So drink all the FEMA-funded Mad Dog before Uncle Sam comes a-knockin'--or just drop it off with Buzz. We won't say where we got it.