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North Port family receives FEMA approval letter by mistake

441 approval letters went out to people impacted by Hurricane Ian
Posted at 9:37 AM, Oct 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 09:37:09-04

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Already dealing with repairs and damage from Hurricane Ian, one North Port family said a letter from FEMA is adding another layer of stress.

Just when they thought FEMA would send them money to help pay for necessities, Pamela Johnson and her family found out that money wouldn't be coming.

Johnson said she wants others waiting on a FEMA check to be aware that the money they’re counting on may never arrive.

"It's going to be months. But you don't need nothing like this to make it worse," she said, thinking of the repairs to her home.

There are multiple holes in Johnson's ceiling from wind damage during Hurricane Ian.

Hurricane Ian ceiling damage

"I feel very unsafe in here right now. That's why we stayed in the center room so much," she said.

Johnson's dining room became a refuge for the entire family from the moment Hurricane Ian hit.

She spent much of her time on the phone with FEMA, trying to get some assistance.

"I got on the phone four different times until I finally got through. The first three times was almost five hours, and I ran out of battery on my cell phone. Finally, the fourth time I got through," she recalled.

She said she received two denial letters before getting an acceptance letter promising $700 from FEMA's Critical Needs Assistance. She planned to use the money on her husband's insulin and to replace money spent on water and tarps.

FEMA letter

"I kept checking the bank. I kept checking the mailbox, and nothing was coming. The letter is dated October 3. So I told my husband, I said, 'I'm gonna have to call them and get them online again,'" Johnson said.

That's when she found out FEMA made a mistake and the money would never come.

"I personally think this letter is awful," she said. "Something you depend on. And they told me hundreds of letters have been sent out. So I don't know who all else is waiting on one. But they're not going to get it."

FEMA told us that in order to qualify for Critical Needs Assistance funds, you must be displaced or at risk of being displaced from your home because of the storm and in need of money to spend on life-saving or life-sustaining things.

The US Department of Treasury stopped or reversed payment for 441 claims made in error, like Johnson's. 271 of those applicants were later made eligible for CNA based on additional updates provided after applying.

In a statement to ABC Action News, the agency said:

“We are committed to addressing the needs of survivors, especially those with added economic burden, and are contacting each person who received an improper payment to determine the best course of action for their unique situation.”
FEMA spokesperson

FEMA has paid out $139 million in CNA funds to nearly 200 thousand as of October 19.

But Johnson said it's still disappointing that the money she accounted for isn't coming.

"They made a promise to us they didn't keep up," she said. "They promised us critical needs assistance, which would have helped us because we've had to put boards and plastic up in our ceilings because we've got two fallen down ceilings and a number of them that's bulging, ready to go."

For anyone waiting on assistance, FEMA suggested regularly calling or checking on your status to make sure they have all of the information they need. You can more information about FEMA's assistance here.