A $450 TATTOO: MILLIONS IN KATRINA AID WASTED
February 15, 2006
The government squandered millions of dollars in Katrina disaster aid, including handing $2,000 debit cards to people who gave phony Social Security numbers and used the money for such items as a $450 tattoo, auditors said Monday. Federal money also paid for $375-a-day beachfront condos and 10,777 trailers that were stuck in mud and unusable.
Overcharges, poor accounting and abuses will take "months or years" to rectify, the Government Accountability Office and the Homeland Security Department's inspector general concluded in preliminary reports on how billions of dollars in taxpayer money is being spent.
- The GAO auditors found that up to 900,000 of the 2.5 million applicants who received aid under the emergency cash assistance program -- which included the debit cards given to evacuees -- based their requests on duplicate or invalid Social Security numbers, or false addresses and names.
- In other instances, recipients improperly used their debit cards intended for food and shelter for $400 massages, a $450 tattoo, a $1,100 diamond engagement ring and $150 worth of products at "Condoms to Go."
The auditors called for stronger controls to verify the eligibility of disaster victims who apply for aid over the phone and Internet, better planning of emergency supplies for hurricanes and improved accounting of FEMA's vast inventory of temporary housing.
The audits released Monday do not try to estimate a total dollar figure on waste and abuse, but GAO auditor Gregory Kutz told senators during a hearing that it was "certainly millions of dollars; it could be tens or hundreds of millions of dollars."
Source: Associated Press, "A $450 tattoo: Millions in Katrina aide wasted," Arizona Republic, February 13, 2006.
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