Watch CBS News

Assemblyman To Superstorm Sandy Victims: Don't Repay FEMA A Dime

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A state assemblyman is urging his constituents not to repay the Federal Emergency Management Agency money it says it mistakenly paid out in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, D-Far Rockaway, said he's asked FEMA to stop requesting the repayments, but the agency says it's required by law to try to recoup money it sent out by mistake, WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported.

Goldfeder said the letters storm victims have received are insulting.

Assemblyman To Superstorm Sandy Victims: Don't Repay FEMA A Dime

"For FEMA to ask for that money back is a clear indication that they just don't understand the struggles that our families are still going through," Goldfeder said.

FEMA, for example, claims it gave aid to some residents of the Belle Harbor Manor assisted living center on Queens' Rockaway Peninsula to spend on temporary housing, but it wasn't because the residents were shuttled from one state-funded shelter to another.

Now, the agency wants at least a dozen of those disabled, elderly and mostly poor residents to return thousands of dollars in disaster aid.

"The mission of FEMA is to help people when they need it most," Goldfeder said. "And quite frankly, what they're doing is kicking families while they're down, and it's unacceptable."

Goldfeder said he's heard from constituents who have been asked to pay back as much as $20,000.

Robert Rosenberg, 61, said he received a letter from FEMA saying he owed the agency more than $2,400, CBS2's Don Champion reported.

"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. "The government is making a big mistake by going after people like us.

He claims FEMA workers never explained that the money he received 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.

"It's like they pick on the little fishes, the little guys that can't defend themselves and doesn't have a voice and I think it's a disgrace," he said.

Goldfeder said the FEMA aid was in fact spent on Sandy recovery.

"It didn't go towards a vacation. It didn't go towards any luxury items," Goldfeder said. "It went towards rebuilding their house and bringing back a sense of normalcy."

You May Also Be Interested In These Stories

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.