Expedited Assistance for Victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: FEMA's Control Weaknesses Exposed the Government to Significant Fraud and Abuse

GAO-06-403T Published: Feb 13, 2006. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 2006.
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As a result of widespread congressional and public interest in the federal response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, GAO conducted an audit of the Individuals and Households Program (IHP) under Comptroller General of the United States statutory authority. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed homes and displaced millions of individuals. In the wake of these natural disasters, FEMA faced the challenge of providing assistance quickly and with minimal "red tape," while having sufficient controls to provide assurance that benefits were paid only to eligible individuals and households. In response to this challenge, FEMA provided $2,000 in IHP payments to affected households via its Expedited Assistance (EA) program. Victims who received EA may qualify for up to $26,200 in IHP assistance. As of mid-December 2005, IHP payments totaled about $5.4 billion, with $2.3 billion provided in the form of EA. These payments were made via checks, electronic fund transfers, and a small number of debit cards. GAO's testimony will provide the results to date related to whether (1) controls are in place and operating effectively to limit EA to qualified applicants, (2) indications exist of fraud and abuse in the application for and receipt of EA and other payments, and (3) controls are in place and operating effectively over debit cards to prevent duplicate EA payments and improper usage.

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