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Posted by on Jun 14, 2006 in At TMV | 5 comments

FEMA Funds Debit Card Used For Divorce And Sex Change

It now turns out that those highly touted (and shortly lived) FEMA debit cards were used by some people who had them…just like regular debit cards. Your tax dollars at work:

Houston divorce lawyer Mark Lipkin says he can’t recall anyone paying for his services with a FEMA debit card, but congressional investigators say one of his clients did just that.

The $1,000 payment was just one example cited in an audit that concluded that up to $1.4 billion – perhaps as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in assistance expended after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – was spent for bogus reasons.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also was hoodwinked to pay for season football tickets, a tropical vacation and a sex change operation, the audit found. Prison inmates, a supposed victim who used a New Orleans cemetery for a home address and a person who spent 70 days at a Hawaiian hotel all were able to get taxpayer help, according to evidence that gives a new black eye to the nation’s disaster relief agency.

“I do Katrina victims all the time,” Lipkin, the divorce attorney, told The Associated Press. “I didn’t know anybody did that with me. I don’t think it’s right, obviously.”

Still, in a news story like this you don’t usually find out the total number of cards that went out. The total number of people who used it responsibly. And the total number and percentage of those who used it for purposes for which it wasn’t issued. Even so, laws — and scandals — focus on those who don’t do things the proper way. Outrage in Congress (which of course always walks the straight and narrow in all financial and ethical matters) is great:

Government Accountability Office officials were testifying before a House committee Wednesday on their findings.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the subcommittee overseeing an investigation of post-hurricane aid, called the bogus spending “an assault on the American taxpayer.”

The AP goes on to say that FEMA as recorded 1,500 cases of potential fraud and “has identified $16.8 million in improperly awarded disaster relief money and has started efforts to collect the money.’ But the GAO thinks between $600 million and $1.4 million was given out improperly.

Other outrages include being reimbursed for the same hotel room twice, $100 hotel rooms in Hawaii, a Carribean vacation, champagne, sdult erotica products in Houston and “Girls Gone Wild” videos in Santa Monica, Calif. And a whole lot more.

Hey, plastic is plastic…

UPDATE: Be sure to read Polimom, Too’s take on this.

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Copyright 2006 The Moderate Voice
  • Notice that Clinton-era FEMA never had any of these problems.

    If you don’t believe in the government, you’ll install incompetent administrators who will very swiftly prove your point.

  • BrianOfAtlanta

    Clinton-era FEMA didn’t have a hurricane or other natural disaster anywhere near this large. Furthermore, FEMA was just this bad back in 1992 for hurricane Andrew. Nothing new under the sun.

  • JP

    Solomon, I’ve been arguing that point for months. Hear, hear!

    The mis-allocation of funds by these individuals is disturbing and plain wrong. At the same time, blowhards like Hannity use it to color the entire group of people whose lives were wrecked by Katrina–and that is also plain wrong.

    -JP in Atlanta

  • tgflux

    While I oppose fraud, I must protest the constant sensationalizing of “FEMA pays for Sex Change!” headlines.

    Would politicians and the media have been going quite so nuts, if the headline was “FEMA pays for Kidney Transplant!”?

    And yet, for the person who needs it, sexual reassignment surgery can be every bit as life-saving.

    Yes, let’s protest FEMA mis-management. But, maybe not at the price of further mocking transgender people?

    Thank you!

  • I don’t exactly get why debit cards were handed out. What exactly were the “needs” that were hopefully being purchased? How about at the very least, gift cards for supermarkets that would limit the purchases to certain stores. Second, how the heck did they determine who qualified for the cards. Sounds like nobody was checking. Couldn’t they just pull up tax records and base it on people’s last year income?

    TITLE: FEMA, the VA, and other fun ways to spend money
    BLOG NAME: Polimom, Too
    The General Accountability Office (GAO) has found that as much as 16% of disaster relief funds — ~$1.4billion — were spent on bogus claims. (WaPo) The GAO concluded that as much as 16 percent of the billions of dollars in…

    TITLE: FEMA and fraud
    BLOG NAME: The Florida Masochist
    When I’m in a good frame of mind, I can cut FEMA some slack. They are dealing with t he aftermath of a disaster and trying to get as much help out as fast as possible. All done while intense media and public scrutiny that are demanding relief right a…

    TITLE: The Problem With Throwing Money At Problems
    BLOG NAME: Blue Crab Boulevard

    Well in today's ode to the obvious, the AP is reporting that a GAO study shows that quite a sizable sum of the money Congress threw at the Katrina disaster was misspent and that some people used fraud to obtain the money.
    Well, duh. …

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