Washington, DC – Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) expressed concern today about incidents of waste and fraud in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief program, following an announcement yesterday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida that a grand jury had returned separate indictments against 14 people in Miami-Dade County alleging that they made fraudulent claims for FEMA disaster assistance. The suspects received more than $150,000 in total in disaster assistance from FEMA based on allegedly false claims.
Senators Collins and Lieberman announced last month that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would investigate allegations of fraud and waste in the distribution of disaster aid by FEMA. Collins is the Chairman and Lieberman is the Ranking Member of the Committee, which has jurisdiction over fraud and waste in government programs, including FEMA as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Committee investigation is proceeding, and a separate review is also being conducted by the DHS Inspector General’s (IG) Office. The investigations follow concerns expressed by local emergency management officials and members of Congress that people living in areas that may not have qualified for disaster assistance were able to apply for and receive funds from FEMA. In addition, there have been reports of similar fraud and abuse following disasters in other parts of the country.
“These indictments heighten our concern that the FEMA disaster relief program may not contain sufficient safeguards to ensure that the integrity of the program – and ultimately taxpayers – are protected. Fraudulent claims that make it successfully through the system are symptoms of ineffective controls, inefficient processing, and wasteful spending,” said Senators Collins and Lieberman. “FEMA funds are very important to help families and communities rebuild from a disaster. We must make every effort possible to ensure that this aid is limited to those who have truly suffered losses.”
Committee investigators recently met in Florida with DHS IG auditors and investigators to discuss their findings. The Committee expects to receive a report from the DHS IG sometime this spring. Committee investigators also held discussions with local emergency management officials.
The Department of Justice’s press release on the FEMA fraud arrests is available at: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls/HURRICANE%20FRANCES.html.