FEMA not taking back Sandy funds from town

Stephen Romano
Sen. Charles Schumer in October calling on FEMA to not mandate the return of Sandy recovery funds given to the Town of North Hempstead.

Sen. Charles Schumer announced on Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will not claw back the $9.9 million in Superstorm Sandy recovery funds from the Town of North Hempstead that were examined in a federal audit.

The Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit in September that reviewed $36.6 million in Sandy funds and found that 9.9 million should be given back.

The inspector general’s audit said the town failed to follow federal standards in awarding $4.9 million in debris removal.

FEMA last week recommended that the inspector general’s office not require the town to return the funds.

“We thank Sen. Schumer and the town’s other federal representatives who helped the town explain to FEMA that after Sandy we followed the necessary procedures, complied with contract rules and served as careful custodians of federal disaster relief funds,” town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in a statement.

The audit reviewed four projects that totaled $20.9 million in FEMA funding. In total, the town received $36.6 million for 30 Sandy-related projects aimed to remove debris and complete emergency work.

The inspector general’s office said in the audit that the town expended about $4.9 million on contracts for debris removal that did not meet federal standards, about $3.2 million for costs claimed twice, about $562,000 for “unsupported costs” and about $405,000 for “costs that insurance paid.”

Additionally, the inspector general’s audit said that the town spent about $791,000 less than what it received for a project that was completed in October 2013.

Town officials said in September that the $4.9 million in contracts were authorized under state law and approved by FEMA for emergency debris removal projects.

“It’s good news that FEMA has heeded the call and recommended to the OIG that already-spent federal funds not be clawed back from the town,” Schumer said in a statement. “The Town of North Hempstead worked in good faith, around the clock, to recover quickly after Superstorm Sandy. Had FEMA approved the Inspector General’s recommendations, local taxpayers would have been on the hook for millions and millions of dollars. Residents in the Town of North Hempstead can now breathe a sigh of relief because FEMA has heard our case loud and clear and made a decision that was in Long Island’s best interest.”

Officials of the town and the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which oversees federal assistance grants, said the town had corrected an error in which it made a duplicate $3.2 million payment and the project cost was removed before the funds were released.

The inspector general’s office said the town did not provide documentation supporting $562,387 in expenses by the town’s Solid Waste Management Authority for equipment and administrative costs during debris removal.

Town officials disputed this claim, saying that the town “provided a spreadsheet summary and has records to show GPS location and fuel use by SWMA employees during the emergency clean-up period.”

Schumer held a press conference in October in Port Washington urging FEMA to not take back the funds, saying “you made the mistake, FEMA, if it’s a mistake at all, so don’t take it out on the 250,000 residents of North Hempstead”

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Stephen Romano

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