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Proposal By Queens Congressman Targets FEMA Push For Sandy Repayments

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A proposal by a Queens congressman calls for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to back off its pursuit to recoup aid mistakenly paid out to Superstorm Sandy victims.

FEMA 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 they should not have been eligible because they were instead shuttled from one state-funded shelter to another.

Residents said they were told the money was not a loan and were not accurately informed about the stipulations for its use.

Proposal By Queens Congressman Targets FEMA Push For Sandy Repayments

Now, FEMA wants at least a dozen of those disabled, elderly and mostly poor residents to return thousands of dollars in disaster aid. The agency said it's required by law to try to recover the money.

The same thing happened after Hurricane Katrina, and Congress gave FEMA discretion, WCBS 880's Alex Silverman reported. But that law expired three years ago.

A proposal by Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) would extend it.

"It seems like a quick fix," Meeks said Monday in Belle Harbor.

"FEMA should have the ability to excuse some when they did not commit any fraud, just did what they were told to do," the congressman added. "These individuals do not have the capacity to pay it back. And they were already victimized by Sandy."

Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Far Rockaway) said earlier this month he's heard from constituents who have been asked to pay back as much as $20,000.

Vincentia Becker, 94, who has lived just off the beach for half a century, said FEMA is requesting that she repay $5,800 -- money she said she has already spent on repairs. Her insurance company, Allstate,  also sent her a check for a similar amount, CBS2's Emily Smith reported.

"I have to pay for food," Becker said. "Fifty-eight hundred (dollars) they want back. I don't have it.

"I went through enough," she added. "I want to live peacefully from now on."

Congressman Meeks said Becker is just one of several similar stories, and if his bill passes it would prevent FEMA from getting money back. Meeks said the agency is even looking to tap Social Security checks, Smith reported.

"They say they don't know how they will make it if their Social Security checks are garnished," Meeks said of the victims.

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