FOND DU LAC - Wisconsin flood and storm victims who received financial help from the federal government years ago are now being ordered to pay that money back.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency admits in many cases it's not fraud, but an agency mistake. FEMA says it doled out more than $1 million to Wisconsinites who weren't eligible. Nationwide, FEMA is reviewing agency assistance errors that could exceed $600 million.
But should storm victims have to pay the price, years after the fact? Penny Warren of Fond du Lac doesn't think so.
"Return your check to the treasury office, mail a personal check or money order in the amount of your debt payable to FEMA, pay by credit card, they'll take credit card payments over the phone," she said reading a formal letter from the agency.
Warren received $3,368.16 from FEMA in 2008 after a flood devastated the city and left four feet of water in her basement. Three years later, FEMA wants the money back.
"'If the insurance company reimbursed you more than we did,' which they did by a couple thousand dollars, 'then we shouldn't have paid you,'" Warren said, reading from the letter. "So, if you haven't cashed the check, you can send it back, which I thought was hilarious."
She says she told FEMA she was covered, but workers told her to apply anyway.
A recent government audit shows that happened a lot. FEMA is seeking payment from 413 Wisconsinites. The agency says it improperly awarded $1,115,555 in assistance for storms in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
For the '08 flood, which affected Warren, FEMA wants to recoup more than $400,000 from 120 applicants. In all, FEMA awarded more than $56 million in the storm. Money went to 23,956 applicants. FEMA began requesting repayment in March.
Warren and others are wondering why it took FEMA years to ask for the money. The agency says, under court order, it had to wait. A federal judge put a hold on FEMA collection efforts in 2007. That paused the process, until the agency could show it had revamped the way it does business.
"FEMA, along with other federal agencies government wide, has long been required by congress to identify any cases in which federal assistance may have been improperly distributed and to recover those funds, even in cases of human error or mistake," FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said in a statement.
"I don't know, I don't think it's right they come back three years later, especially for people that can't borrow it, which is what we ended up doing," Warren said.
She understands mistakes happen, but is frustrated.
FEMA says those who've received notices have the right to appeal the debt or ask for a waiver.
Warren says the notice gave her 90 days to make arrangements.
Gov. Scott Walker is calling for more trees to be harvested from a national forest in far northern Wisconsin as part of the state's efforts to spur growth in its struggling timber industry.
A man convicted in an arson that was made to look like a hate crime has been sentenced to 16 months in prison.
It could be closing time for many small cinemas across the country.
When is it work? When is it abuse? The line can sometimes be blurry, when it comes to dairy farmers dealing with cows. These questions have recently been raised, after video surfaced, showing animal abuse at a local dairy farm.
When your doctor prescribes medication, you assume it's safe, but some people don't realize how dangerous it can be, if it's abused. A group of local high school students helped make a movie to shine a light on the problem.
We're learning more about what it will take to find out what caused a major fire in downtown Ripon Wednesday.