6 years later, Katrina victims fight FEMA debts

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN | December 28, 2011 | 11:30 AM EST

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A new law could provide financial relief to thousands of Gulf Coast residents who received debt notices from the Federal Emergency Management agency six years after Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA mailed out 83,000 recoupment letters this year to victims of Katrina and other 2005 storms, seeking to recover more than $385 million. The agency says it is required by law to make an effort to recover improper payments, even if the recipient wasn't at fault.

Last week, however, Congress approved legislation that would allow FEMA to waive many of the debts. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law last Friday.

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said the agency is reviewing the law's provisions and developing a plan to implement them. But it's unclear how many people could benefit from the change.