MEMA director ‘strongly’ disagrees with audit

Womack

BILOXI

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency is working with FEMA’s Disaster Recovery Office to determine whether South Mississippi entities properly spent $9.5 million in Katrina-relief money.

A report from the Inspector General’s Office of the Homeland Security Department maintains eight entities, including local governments or nonprofits, were overpaid the $9.5 million on 10 recovery projects.

Mike Womack, MEMA’s executive director, would not release the names of the entities identified as overpaid. The IG’s report listed the payments only by project number. Womack said he wants to first contact the entities to let them know they might receive media calls.

He said a school district and a small city have repaid a total of $356,583 on two of the 10 projects listed. He said projects included debris removal, power-line repair by an electric cooperative, emergency roofing and emergency overtime.

He said $7.1 million of the total in question was paid to the electric cooperative.

The IG’s office asked FEMA to decide by April 20 what action the agency will take regarding the payments.

Dennis Kizziah, director of FEMA’s state Disaster Recovery Office, said more documentation has been requested to decide if payments were eligible. Womack said the IG’s office expects entities to reimburse FEMA for projects originally labeled temporary, though FEMA will turn around and cover the costs under their reclassification as permanent projects.

“I cannot emphasize too strongly that we do not agree with these findings,” Womack said. He said recovery projects generally are reviewed on completion to determine if any money needs to be reimbursed.

Womack also said MEMA has no authority to demand the entities repay the money. For 30 years or more, he said, amounts overpaid have been deducted from an entity’s FEMA funds for future work. In this case, he said, all eight entities could deduct any overpayments from FEMA money obligated but not yet received.

By ANITA LEE – calee@sunherald.com

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