The review found waste and poor controls in every level of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's assistance program and challenges the designation of Miami-Dade as a disaster area when the county "did not incur any hurricane force winds, tornados or other adverse weather conditions that would cause widespread damage."
Though the study was confined to Miami-Dade County, it concludes that the agency's problematic practices "cast doubt about the appropriateness" of awards elsewhere in the state, "particularly those counties that had only marginal damage."
Conducted by the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Homeland Security, the audit shows that in Miami-Dade FEMA distributed:
$8.2 million in rental assistance to 4,308 applicants in the county who "did not indicate a need for shelter" when they registered for help. In 60 cases reviewed by auditors, inspectors deemed homes unsafe without explanation, and applicants never moved out.
$720,403 to 228 people for belongings based on their word alone.
$192,592 for generators, air purifiers, wet/dry vacuum cleaners, chainsaws and other items without proof that they were needed to deal with the hurricane. Three applicants got generators for their homes, plus rental assistance from FEMA to live somewhere else.
$15,743 for three funerals without sufficient documentation that the deaths were due to the hurricane.
$46,464 to 64 residents for temporary housing even though they had homeowners insurance. FEMA funds cannot be used when costs are covered by insurance.
$17,424 in rental assistance to 24 people who reported that their homes were not damaged.
$97,500 for 15 automobiles with a "blue book" value of $56,140. In general, the report states that FEMA approved claims for damaged vehicles without properly verifying that the losses were caused by the storm.
The 60-page report, obtained by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel Friday, confirms a number of the findings in an ongoing investigation by the newspaper into FEMA's disaster aid program. The newspaper first reported in October that FEMA was awarding millions of dollars to Miami-Dade residents even though the Labor Day weekend storm made landfall more than 100 miles to the north and local officials knew of no serious damage.
The paper found that FEMA paid for thousands of televisions, appliances and rooms full of furniture in Miami-Dade and that the agency covered the expenses of 315 funerals statewide, even though Florida's medical examiners attributed only 123 deaths to the four hurricanes.
Michael D. Brown, FEMA's director, said Friday that although some fraud and abuse is evident in all disasters he was pleased with the audit's findings of "nothing widespread."
"The residents of Florida, and people across the nation, can feel assured that they will always be our first priority in responding to devastating disasters," he said in a written statement to the newspaper.
The audit is scheduled for official release Wednesday, when the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing into whether the FEMA program was mismanaged.
"We want to get answers," said U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Palm Beach Gardens.
Calling the inspector general's report a "cursory review," Foley said: "I don't think they were digging deep enough. They were scratching the surface on the questions we have."