NYC adult home residents asked to repay FEMA aid

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FEMA Sandy Victims
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NYC adult home residents asked to repay FEMA aid
The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast from the helicopter behind Marine One with US President Barack Obama and Governor Christie as they view the Hurricane Sandy damage in New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Doug Mills (Photo credit should read DOUG MILLS/AFP/Getty Images)
The Empire State Building towers in the background of an apartment buliding in Chelsea, New York City, with the facade broken off October 30, 2012 the morning after Hurricane Sandy. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina reported 15 dead from the massive storm system, and Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) search for stranded residents as they navigate through flood waters on Hylan Boulevard in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials spent the day grappling with the damage from Sandy, the Atlantic superstorm that killed 10 people, sparked a fire that destroyed 111 homes in Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left more than 750,000 customers without power. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A fallen tree blocks the road in the wake of Hurricane Sandy October 30, 2012 in Washignton, DC. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina reported 15 dead from the massive storm system, and Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
People are evacuated from a neighborhood in Little Ferry, New Jersey, one day after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast on October 30, 2012. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 32 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)
A partially collapsed crane, top center, hangs from the 90-story residential building One57 under construction on West 57th Street in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in a Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MANTOLOKING, NJ - OCTOBER 31: Homes sit in ruin after flooding from Superstorm Sandy on October 31, 2012 in Mantoloking, New Jersey. At least 50 people were reportedly killed in the U.S. by Sandy with New Jersey suffering massive damage and power outages. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast from the helicopter following Marine One with US President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie as they view the storm damage in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Doug Mills (Photo credit should read DOUG MILLS/AFP/Getty Images)
The view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast from the helicopter following Marine One with US President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie as they view the storm damage in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Doug Mills (Photo credit should read DOUG MILLS/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast from the helicopter as President Obama and Governor Christie view the damage in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Doug Mills (Photo credit should read DOUG MILLS/AFP/Getty Images)
A view of storm damage over the Atlantic Coast from the helicopter as President Obama and Governor Christie view the damage in Seaside Heights, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Doug Mills (Photo credit should read DOUG MILLS/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama comforts Hurricane Sandy victim Dana Vanzant as he visits a neighborhood in Brigantine, New Jersey, on October 31, 2012. Americans sifted through the wreckage of superstorm Sandy on Wednesday as millions remained without power. The storm carved a trail of devastation across New York City and New Jersey, killing dozens of people in several states, swamping miles of coastline, and throwing the tied-up White House race into disarray just days before the vote. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Residents look at damage left by Hurricane Sandy on City Island, New York, October 30, 2012. US President Obama declared New York a disaster area The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
Boats rest on the ground after floating from their stands at dry dock on City Island , in New York October 30, 2012 following Hurricane Sandy's impact. US President Obama declared New York a disaster area The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
A fallen tree blocks a street in the wake of Hurricane Sandy October 30, 2012 in Washignton, DC. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina reported 15 dead from the massive storm system, and Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Standing water around building in South Street Seaport October 30, 2012 as New Yorkers clean up the morning after Hurricane Sandy. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina reported 15 dead from the massive storm system, and Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
The Empire State Building towers in the background of an apartment buliding in Chelsea, New York City, with the facade broken off October 30, 2012 the morning after Hurricane Sandy. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina reported 15 dead from the massive storm system, and Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A flooded Brooklyn Battery park Tunnel October 30, 2012 as New Yorkers clean up the morning after Hurricane Sandy's landfall. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 16 in the mainland United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people were still missing, officials said Tuesday. Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and North Carolina reported 15 dead from the massive storm system, and Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
A 92-year-old resident who was rescued from the second story of her home is evacuated from a neighborhood in Little Ferry, New Jersey, one day after Hurricane Sandy slammed the East Coast on October 30, 2012. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 32 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Mehdi Taamallah (Photo credit should read MEHDI TAAMALLAH/AFP/Getty Images)
A partially collapsed crane hangs from the 90-story residential building One57 under construction on West 57th Street in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in a Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A malfunctioning generator billows black smoke out of a building at Beaver and Broad Streets in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in a Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographer: Katia Porzecanski/Bloomberg via Getty Images
New York Police Department divers walk through a flooded area on October 30, 2012 in the Breezy Point area of Queens in New York that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 35 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
People view damage in a neighborhood in the Breezy Point area of Queens in New York on October 30, 2012 after fire destroyed about 80 homes as a result of Hurricane Sandy which hit the area October 29. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 35 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Two boys view damage in a neighborhood in the Breezy Point area of Queens in New York on October 30, 2012 after fire destroyed about 80 homes as a result of Hurricane Sandy which hit the area October 29. The death toll from superstorm Sandy has risen to 35 in the United States and Canada, and was expected to climb further as several people remained missing, officials said. Officials in the states of Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia all reported deaths from the massive storm system, while Toronto police said a Canadian woman was killed by flying debris. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
A man walks past a destroyed garage entrance in lower Manhattan in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in a Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Sandbags are stacked at the entrance to the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. headquarters in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials began assessing damage after superstorm Sandy killed 10 people, sparked a fire that razed 80 homes in a Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left 750,000 customers without power, including the lower third of Manhattan. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A resident looks over damage in the Breezy Point neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Atlantic superstorm Sandy may cut U.S. economic growth as it keeps millions of employees away from work and shuts businesses from restaurants to refineries in one of the nation’s most populated and productive regions. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Residents look over the damage in the Breezy Point neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Atlantic superstorm Sandy may cut U.S. economic growth as it keeps millions of employees away from work and shuts businesses from restaurants to refineries in one of the nation’s most populated and productive regions. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A photograph floats on oil-slicked floodwater on Hylan Boulevard in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials spent the day grappling with the damage from Sandy, the Atlantic superstorm that killed 10 people, sparked a fire that destroyed 111 homes in Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left more than 750,000 customers without power. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) search for stranded residents as they navigate through flood waters on Hylan Boulevard in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. New York City officials spent the day grappling with the damage from Sandy, the Atlantic superstorm that killed 10 people, sparked a fire that destroyed 111 homes in Queens, flooded tunnels of the biggest U.S. transit system and left more than 750,000 customers without power. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31: A man breaks wood for a bonfire October 31, 2012 in New York City. Superstorm Sandy has claimed several dozen lives in the United States and has caused massive flooding across much of the Atlantic seaboard. U.S. President Barack Obama has declared the situation a 'major disaster' for large areas of the U.S. east coast, including New York City, with widespread power outages and significant flooding in parts of lower Manhattan and elsewhere. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) - The residents of Belle Harbor Manor spent four miserable months in emergency shelters after Superstorm Sandy's floodwaters surged through their assisted-living center on New York City's Rockaway peninsula.

Now, the home's disabled, elderly and mostly poor residents have a new headache: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked at least a dozen of them to pay back thousands of dollars in disaster aid.

Robert Rosenberg, 61, was among the Belle Harbor Manor residents who recently got notices from FEMA informing them that they had retroactively been declared ineligible for aid checks they received two years ago in the storm's immediate aftermath. The problem, the letters said, was that the money was supposed to have been spent on temporary housing, but that never happened because the residents were moved from one state-funded shelter to another.

FEMA gave Rosenberg until Nov. 15 to send a refund check for $2,486 or file an appeal.

"We're on a fixed income. I don't have that kind of money!" said Rosenberg, who suffers from a spinal disability and other chronic health problems. He said he spent the aid money long ago on food and clothing, both of which were in short supply after the storm.


Hurricane Sandy two years later:

20 PHOTOS
Hurricane Sandy 2 Years Later
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NYC adult home residents asked to repay FEMA aid
The McDonald's on Broad Channel Drive in Rockaway Beach only days after Sandy ravaged the neighborhood. (Instagram/GormoJourno)
The completely rebuilt McDonald's as it stands today. (AOL News Photo)
Beach 91st Street & Shorefront Parkway as they were in the days after Sandy. (Flickr)
Windows on the street are still taped even today. (AOL News Photo)
The famed Rockaway Skating Park was destroyed by Sandy. (Flickr)
It has been completely rebuilt. (AOL News Photo)
Another view of the destroyed skating park. (Flickr)
It is now better than ever. (AOL News photo)
The boardwalk is still being rebuilt, but it is no longer in the street. (AOL News photo)
The beach still has a long way to go, but it is in better shape with each passing day. (AOL News photo)
Another view of the beach as it is today. (AOL News photo)
The Hoboken PATH station has been completely restored since Sandy's floodwaters ravaged it. (AOL News photo)
The station has never looked better. (AOL News photo)
The shopping arcade at One New York Plaza, in Lower Manhattan, was completely submerged from Sandy's storm surge. (Alamy)
It is no longer underwater, but has yet to reopen. (AOL News photo)
South Ferry Station has since been completely rebuilt and opened. (AOL News photo)
Sandy's storm surge rushed into this parking garage during the night of October 29, 2012. (AOL News photo)
Cars piled on top of each other at the entrance to the garage, on South Willliam Street, in Lower Manhattan on October 31, 2012. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
The parking garage looks today as if no flooding ever happened. (AOL News photo)
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The demand letters are part of a broader FEMA effort to recover millions of dollars in aid payments that went to ineligible households, either because of errors, a misunderstanding of the rules or outright fraud.

The Associated Press reported in September that FEMA was scrutinizing 4,500 households it suspected had received improper payments. At that time, 850 had been asked to return a collective $5.8 million. The other cases were still under review.

The AP on Tuesday asked for updated numbers on the number of storm victims who had been asked to return money, but FEMA didn't immediately provide them.

Data obtained through a previous public records request, however, showed that as of July 30, the agency was considering a recoupment action against 35 residents of assisted living facilities in the same part of Queens that is home to Belle Harbor Manor. Collectively, those residents had received $108,598, with most of that money intended to cover temporary housing. Five residents had also received aid to cover destroyed belongings.

After their chaotic evacuation, Belle Harbor Manor residents were initially taken to a huge evacuation center set up inside a Brooklyn armory, then spent a brief period sleeping four-to-a-room at a hotel in a crime-plagued neighborhood where they were advised not to go outside after dark.

The state then moved the residents, many of whom suffer from mild mental illnesses, to a halfway house on the grounds of a partly-abandoned psychiatric hospital in Queens, where they bunked on cots and were barred from having visitors in their rooms.

Rosenberg said the FEMA workers who urged him to apply for assistance during the period when residents were staying at the armory never explained that the money could only be used for housing.

"Everyone asked, 'Do we have to pay this back later on? Is it a loan?' They said, 'No. It's a gift from Obama,'" he said. "If I wasn't eligible, then why give it to me in the first place? They knew we were living in an adult home. They knew our shelter was being paid for by the state. It's not like we lied on the application."

At the time, it wasn't clear how long they would be in the shelter, or where they would go next.

FEMA spokeswoman Rafael Lemaitre said the agency was required by law to recoup improper payments but did not directly address the residents' situation.

"FEMA remains committed to working with applicants and ensuring they have an understanding of the options available to resolve their debt, which includes making a payment, filling an appeal, requesting a compromise and establishing a payment plan," he said.

More common types of FEMA recoupment actions involve households ineligible for assistance because their damaged properties were vacation homes or rental properties, or families that received extra payments because more than one household member had applied for assistance. FEMA also commonly recoups emergency aid payments for damage later covered by insurance.

Lawyers at MFY Legal Services, a legal aid group that has worked with adult home residents in the past, have offered to help Belle Harbor Manor residents with their appeals.

"Our position is that it would be an unbearable financial hardship and unjust," to require the residents to repay the money, said MFY attorney Nahid Sorooshyari.


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