This Blows, Like a Hurricane

Any doubts I may have had about the alleged incompetence of our beloved Federal Emergency Management Agency have been thoroughly eliminated. FEMA can't even organize a coherent media conference call, let alone disseminate billions of dollars in taxpayer cash to hurricane victims--many of whom need the money for tattoos, massages and sex toys.

The whole thing got off to a bad start at noon today. An Associated Press reporter who couldn't figure out how to use her phone recorder kept putting the call on hold, inadvertently broadcasting a droning male voice talking about the Iraqi insurgency to everyone on the line. FEMA's call host did not like that one little bit, giving the AP the public relations version of, "Oh, no, you didn't!"

After a few more unkind words and incessant beeping from the phones and recorders of various news outlets listening in ('Sup, NBC News! Beaumont Enterprise, represent!), we got down to business. The disastrous call featured Donna Dannels, acting director of FEMA's recovery division, talking about the auditing process that began this week to recoup misappropriated funds--of which there is a veritable boatload--doled out in the wakes of hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

Here's the meat of the issue: 2 to 3 percent of the $6.8 billion dollars doled out to 3.1 million applicants was either fraudulently obtained, redundant because insurance had already covered the damage or just a FEMA paperwork mistake. That's a grand total of about $204 million in misspent aid. Fun fact: Even if FEMA screwed up your application and gave you money you didn't technically need, you still have to pay it back. And if you don't do it within 30 days, they start charging interest at 2 percent.

So, is it a coincidence that April Fool's Day is only a couple of weeks away and FEMA has provided online versions of the demanding letters they'll send out to those who received inappropriate funds? Watch your mailboxes, kids. Watch 'em. —Andrea Grimes

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky