Sen. Menendez Now Pushing Legislation That Protects Disaster Relief Recipients

WARETOWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — She’s frustrated by FEMA.

One Ocean County woman left homeless by Hurricane Sandy has been struggling to rebuild. She recently learned the agency that gave her the money to get back on her feet, wants it all back.

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“I will be recouping from Sandy my entire lifetime,” Jill Belloff told CBS2’s Meg Baker on Wednesday.

Belloff, of Waretown, is one of 1,200 New Jerseyans who received recoupment letters from FEMA, requesting that aid money be paid back to the disaster relief agency.

Belloff, however, no longer has those funds.

“We automatically dispersed to every avenue we had to — we paid the rent, we paid the mortgage, we paid the credit cards, we took care of everything. We have the receipts,” Belloff said.

FEMA is seeking to get back $23 million from people it now says should not have received aid money in the first place. In a statement, FEMA says “the agency wanted to get assistance out as quickly as possible, and, unfortunately, whether through fraud, human or accounting errors, or other reasons, assistance sometimes goes to individuals who are not eligible.”

George Kasimos, with the group “Stop FEMA Now,” advocates on the behalf of Sandy victims.

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“FEMA made a mistake. Why are we paying for FEMA’s mistake?” Kasimos said.

Belloff’s home on the lagoon was uninhabitable after the storm. In the FEMA demand letter it states that the housing assistance she received is temporary, until her house is repaired or she is able to make permanent housing arrangements. So, without a permanent home, she is appealing that decision. Belloff’s lot sits empty with only a mailbox out front.

Sen. Robert Menendez is pushing legislation to protect disaster victims who filed for assistance as they were supposed to do. He said recouping that money is fundamentally backwards.

“They said that I have a certain amount of time to pay it back and if not they are going to put a mark on the deed of my property,” Belloff said.

Belloff said she will continue to fight to get back in her home. She is scheduled to meet with Sen. Menendez next week, Baker reported.

FEMA has provided more than $1.4 billion in assistance to 182,911 disaster survivors in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. Two percent of the total number of survivors that obtained assistance received a recoupment letter from the agency, Baker reported.

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