Earthquake Victims Hit the Jackpot

Article excerpt

The federal government still is feeling financial aftershocks from the 1994 Northridge, Calif, earthquake. Nearly three years after the massive temblor, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. or FEMA, is trying to retrieve approximately $15 million it sent to residents whose homes sustained no substantial damage.

FEMA earned high marks for its rapid response in providing 900,000 earthquake victims with emergency disaster relief. Yet, the urgent nature of the business had an unfortunate consequence. In an effort to expedite the assistance, FEMA instituted a "fast track" check system which dispersed checks to individuals residing in areas that sustained the most damage.

Earthquake damage, however, can be sporadic, and the actual damage was not assessed until after the checks were distributed. Since that time FEMA has discovered that at least 3,872 recipients of federal aid did not incur sufficient damage to make them eligible for the checks they received and, therefore, were asked to return the checks, which averaged $3,450 each. According to agency spokesman Morrie Goodman, as Insight was going to press, $11.7 million had been returned from ineligible residents: $15 million remained outstanding.

Considering that the earthquake was a multi-billion dollar disaster, Goodman says that the outstanding money pales in comparison to the success of the overall mission. …