At least 30 public housing tenants file FEMA claims - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

12.01.03

At least 30 public housing tenants file FEMA claims

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent at least 30 checks to people who say they lost property in the storm, although the head of the housing authority says he's unaware of any damage.

Stained curtains and a broken air conditioner are hardly considered massive hurricane damage, but it's enough for one Wilmington public housing resident to receive $1,000 in federal disaster aid.

According to investigators, she wasn't alone.

"There were six hurricanes in my first four years in office," said Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC). "We know what disaster areas look like. We have to make sure there haven't been abuses."

McIntyre and federal authorities now believe the abuses of federal money are more-wide spread than first thought. As of this week, officials say more than 30 public housing residents have revealed they filed damage claims from Hurricane Isabel. But they only did so after Wilmington's Housing Authority director threatened to evict anyone who didn't come forward.

The authority is now investigating each claim individually, calling many of them "suspicious."

McIntyre wants those findings turned over to FEMA -- the federal agency that handles the claims and pays for damages with tax dollars.

"These people need to come forward for the good of everyone," McIntyre said. "One hurricane season just ended, but there's another next year to worry about."

Meaning, the next time a hurricane hits, FEMA may not be as quick to help. That's a scary proposition in an area where the name Isabel barely even registers as a serious storm.

Wilmington's Housing Authority will spend the next two weeks sifting through the claim files. Officials say if anything doesn't pass the smell test, the tenant who filed the claim may be getting a knock on the door from the federal government.

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