ISLAND PARK - Two U.S. House members who represent New York are asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to forgive millions of dollars in aid that were given to Hurricane Sandy victims who say they can't afford to pay the agency.
"First I had to make a joke of it so I could get past it," says Eddie Schaefer, whom FEMA wants to pay back a little more than $13,000 that he used to fix his Island Park home.
Schaefer filed appeals with FEMA twice with no success. "And then I had to start working on it," he says. "I'm on a payment plan, $225 a month for 60 months." He says he is now paying money that he never had in the first place because FEMA made a mistake.
Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-4th District), the former Nassau County district attorney, and Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-5th District) are calling on Congress to stop these clawbacks by FEMA, whether the mistakes were made by FEMA or made innocently by homeowners.
Earlier this year, Rice co-sponsored a bill that seeks to prevent FEMA from seeking money from homeowners for overpayments.
FEMA has told nearly 1,000 homeowners that they have to pay back an average of $6,500 that they received to help rebuild in the wake of 2012's deadly and devastating Superstorm Sandy.
The agency says the people who are affected received more money from insurance and the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program than the total of their damages, or the homeowners received a duplication of payment.
"If you would have told me that was going to be like this, I would have never taken the money," says Schaefer, who calls FEMA's actions unfair. "Nobody's watching the store there, and they're handing out the money."
A FEMA spokesperson told News 12 that they will continue to work with Congress to do everything they can for survivors. They say the error rate for payments was just under 2 percent after Sandy. Still, they say FEMA is committed to maintaining a fair and transparent process for recovering improper payments.