FEMA’s COVID-19 Funds worth Millions Went to Waste or Abuse
The COVID-19 health emergency brought an epidemic of fraud and theft of people’s money in various public institutions whose details are only now coming to surface. A recent official report shows that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) wasted millions of dollars of COVID-19 emergency funds on questionable funeral expenses.
The report, titled “Ineffective Controls Over COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Leave the Program Susceptible to Waste and Abuse,” was released last month by the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security. It summarizes the results of an audit of the Inspector General’s office into the expenditure under FEMA’s Funeral Assistance program over a period of 6 months (April to September) in 2021.
The results show over $26 million questionably spent under the program. Of these, an estimated $24.4 million was spent on for applicants’ ineligible funeral expenses. These include money spent on obituaries, flowers, catering services, and gratuities that were billed as “necessary expense” or “serious need” by the funeral homes but didn’t meet the official criteria of such expenses. Overpayments and payments for fraudulent claims were also part of the wasteful spending. The report noted:
During the same period above, FEMA issued $1.3 million in assistance payments to multiple parties applying for the same decedents and paid applicants more than the allowable maximum award, resulting in overpayments of $759,026.
The FEMA report doesn’t use the word ‘fraud” to refer to the funds spent questionably; instead it uses the term “ineligible funeral expenses” many times throughout the report. RealClearWire, however, wrote that the report shows the FEMA program was “rife with fraud and mismanagement” that paid for literally anything listed on a funeral home’s invoice.
The report specifies that FEMA chose not to follow the recommendations of the Inspector General’s office on modifying its operating procedures to prevent waste of funds on ineligible expenses.
The report by the Inspector General’s office on waste of funds by FEMA’s funeral assistance program comes a year after FEMA deputy regional administrator Ahsha Tribble pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud in the case of a federal government program to restore Puerto Rico’s electric power grid after Hurricane Maria of 2017. Tribble traded gifts (gratuities) with Donald Ellison, president of an Oklahoma-based energy company, to “get involved in redesigning an electrical grid in Vieques, Puerto Rico” as reported by NBC News. Originally, both Tribble and Ellison were charged in 2019 with conspiracy to commit bribery and wire fraud, but their charges were reduced to exchange of gratuities as part of a plea deal.