El Paso County residents receive $1.6 million in FEMA flood aid

by Cary Vogrin cary.vogrin@gazette.com - Updated: December 19, 2013 at 7:00 pm • Published: December 19, 2013 | 6:15 pm 0
photo - A group of kids look in disbelief as they see the damage on Park Avenue after a flash flood ripped through downtown Friday, August 9, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
A group of kids look in disbelief as they see the damage on Park Avenue after a flash flood ripped through downtown Friday, August 9, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

More than 750 residents of El Paso County - including the homeless - received from roughly $1.66 million in FEMA aid money after September's flooding, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The funds - called Individual Assistance grants - do not have to be repaid and were to help with rental assistance, emergency home repairs and replacement of personal property.

In all, 1,185 people in El Paso County registered for assistance; 433 applicants were deemed ineligible for various reasons, according to John Mills, a FEMA spokesman. Mills said the most common reasons an application is denied include insufficient damage to a residence or that an applicant's occupancy could not be not verified. Others who chose to remain in a damaged dwelling or who missed appointments with FEMA inspectors also were not eligible.

The ZIP codes where most recipients lived include 80906, 80904, 80905 and 80829 - the west and southwestern areas of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. The deadline to apply for assistance in the aftermath of flooding was Dec. 2.

Funds went not just to homeowners and renters, but also to homeless folks who claimed their camps were swept away in the violent flooding.

Checks from FEMA of up to $2,800 were sent to homeless people, including some who used local service agencies such as the Marian House soup kitchen in the 80903 ZIP or Westside Cares in the 80904 ZIP as their mailing address.

While Federal Emergency Management Agency policy does not allow the funds to go to people deemed "pre-disaster homeless," it permits payments to those in "non-traditional housing," officials said.

FEMA authorities were unable to say how many such people received assistance, but the Gazette learned of several who got checks. FEMA would not provide information on the number of checks sent to service agencies, citing privacy laws.

FEMA checks were not limited to areas west of Interstate 25 or the downtown area: 64 registrations were approved for the 80918 ZIP, which includes the area south of Woodmen Road and east of I-25.

In all, more than $57 million in grants went out to residents of 11 Colorado counties deemed disaster areas.

Mills, the FEMA spokesman, said audits are commonplace after such disasters.

"Those audits are a routine part of disaster recovery. Those are independent assessments to determine whether recipients spent the funds according to federal regulations and FEMA guidelines," he said. "This is standard procedure; I would fully expect audits to be done in Colorado.

"If someone says they were living in a structure that was severely damaged or destroyed by the recent flooding when in fact they were living somewhere else at the time, then that person is committing fraud, which is punishable by prison time," Mills said, citing an example.

Carolyn Tyler, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in Denver, said that as a matter of policy, she could not discuss whether any investigations have been launched in Colorado.

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