Before a claim is paid, FEMA sends an inspector to verify damage. That work, however, is done mostly by contractors the agency refuses to identify.
Bob Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America, said the government needs to do a better job accounting for the money it is spending on hurricane relief.
"This is an election year, and everybody is falling over themselves to look good," said Hunter, former head of the national flood insurance program. "You do have to be careful you don't get hoodwinked."
A Sun-Sentinel survey of Miami-Dade officials in all 34 municipalities and the county identified two apartment buildings with roof damage from Frances and a few homes partially crushed by fallen trees.
Carlos Cittadini and seven of his neighbors lost their belongings and were left homeless when Frances blew off part of the roof of the pink, two-story Park Isle Club apartments in Miami Beach.
"The wind was not that strong," said Cittadini, a painter from Uruguay who shared the one-bedroom apartment with his wife and three young children. "Nothing happened, but those apartments are old."
Cittadini used his $6,600 FEMA check to replace furniture, a television and computer, he said.
The Red Cross opened a shelter for residents from 18 units of the Kendall Apartments that also suffered roof damage, but "no one ended up staying there," Barket said. The Red Cross helped a total of about 35 storm victims throughout the county with food, clothing and housing.
The National Weather Service knew of no significant damage to Miami-Dade. During Frances, top sustained winds, the maximum recorded lasting for at least a minute, reached 43 mph at Miami International Airport and 47 mph in Kendall. The highest recorded gust was 59 mph at the airport, which also measured 3.5 inches of rain.
"It was like a severe thunderstorm," said Jim Lushine, a meteorologist in the service's Miami bureau. "Once you start getting gusts of 58 [mph], you start getting trees fall down, or maybe a power line. ... In general, there wasn't anything we would consider strong wind or rain."
The county's Office of Emergency Management used damage reports from residents to compile a map showing some flooding and mostly minor problems throughout the county -- fewer than 100 total.
"It was basically just trees down, power out and street lights down," said emergency management spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez. "Not any major flooding -- very, very minimal flooding."
The city of Miami, the largest municipality in the county, had fewer than a dozen buildings with minor damage. "There was nothing really noteworthy that I remember," said Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Fernandez, who is also the city's emergency manager.
"We didn't even have any flooding or anything," said Lillian Delgado, spokeswoman for Homestead in the southern part of the county. "Honestly, I wouldn't think anywhere in Dade there would have been enough damage to justify that kind of money."
"Twenty million dollars?" said Eric Soroka, city manager of Aventura, an upscale community of high-rises along the Intracoastal Waterway in northeastern Miami-Dade. "Geez. I can't imagine. That's a good one."
Even Medley, in northwest Miami-Dade where almost everyone lives in storm vulnerable mobile homes, came away unscathed.
"This is a trailer park we're talking about," said one resident, Griselia DiGiacomo, 37. "There's no damage whatsoever. None."
Told how much aid FEMA had given out to Miami-Dade residents, DiGiacomo scoffed. "That's not right," she said.