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Here’sfrom CNN on Federal Emergency Misappropriations (FEMA):
Lawmakers expressed outrage Wednesday over a federal audit report that debit cards handed out to hurricane victims last year were used to buy such items as a $200 bottle of champagne from Hooters and $300 worth of “Girls Gone Wild” videos.
To begin, Hooter’s hasto repay the $200 for the bottle of Dom Perignon in question. Considering that for the 2004 presidential election, I imagine he (unless a Badnarik supporter beats him to the punch) will be following suit.
The cards — given to people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — also bought diamond jewelry and a vacation in the Dominican Republic, according to the Government Accountability Office audit.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found at least $1 billion in disaster relief payments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were improper and potentially fraudulent because the recipients provided incomplete or incorrect information when they registered for assistance. (GAO report)
The GAO uncovered records showing $1,000 from a FEMA debit card went to a Houston divorce lawyer, $600 was spent in a strip club, and $400 bought “adult erotica products,” all of which auditors concluded were “not necessary to satisfy legitimate disaster needs.”
The fault in this case is more than obvious. If you pass out a stack of debit cards to a large group of people, only a moron would expect all of them to spend all the money on items like Pampers, bottled water and staple food supplies.
“This is an affront to the American taxpayer, who has been fleeced by the actions of these criminals and the lack of FEMA fraud prevention,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of a House subcommittee investigating how the agency distributed aid.
“If FEMA doesn’t fix it, Congress will,” said McCaul, a Republican from Texas whose investigative panel of the House Homeland Security Committee heard testimony on the report Wednesday. FEMA is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
In FEMA’s defense, top official Donna Daniels testified the agency was simply overwhelmed by the scale of the disasters, forcing it to choose between providing help quickly or delaying aid until information could be verified.
Keeping in mind that McCaul only earned a 60% rating from the National Taxpayer’s Union, he’s probably not the one to be defending the American taxpayer. To be fair to McCaul, he did receive a 76% on the Bush-endorsing FreedomWorks rating (they don’t even list the Libertarian opposition on their site), and is (at the time of this posting) from the Citizen’s for Government Waste listing. Badnarik comes to play again, as he’s clearly a true economic conservative running against McCaul.
“We just made the calculated decision that we were going to help as many people as we could, and that we would have to go back and identify those people who we either paid in error or that defrauded us, and deal with that,” said Daniels, FEMA’s acting director of recovery operations.
Rep. Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, the House panel’s ranking Democrat, said he appreciated FEMA and other relief agencies were under “tremendous pressure to register storm victims as quickly as possible.”
“However, that is no excuse for the lack of preparation, the lack of internal controls and the lack of decisive and professional leadership,” Etheridge said.
McCaul said FEMA should not have to choose between providing assistance quickly and assuring the money is going only to people who qualify.
“I think we can have both, and I think that’s what the American people deserve,” he said.
Both sides seem to be missing the obvious question: Since when is it the responsibility of the Federal government to pass out debit cards to the victims of any natural (or government caused) disaster?