BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Hundreds who received money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency following last September’s floods may have to give the money back.

FEMA sent out letters to 243 people, requesting the money because they say residents received redundant payments for flood damage. That’s less than 1 percent of the total number of flood survivors who got FEMA aid.

Stephanie Walton, the head of Boulder County Long-Term Flood Recovery, said caseworkers at her office have fielded calls from panicked residents who received letters.

“It says a debt is owed to the federal government. So they panic. They’re already maybe traumatized and now they’re re-traumatized right in the middle of the holiday season,” Walton said.

The letters detail debts from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars.

FEMA spokesman Scott Chamberlain said many of the letters were triggered by duplicate benefits paid to residents. For instance, FEMA might pay for temporary housing up front and then insurance reimburses residents for the same expense.

“We absolutely have a responsibility to help and get people in safe, secure conditions. We also have that same responsibility to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” Chamberlain said. “We have to adjust whatever dollars they may have received because we don’t provide duplication of benefits.”

But Walton said residents have received letters that border on threatening. Some mention garnished wages, interest and penalties. Other residents are confused by which benefits were duplicative.

“Whether it was rehab for a water heater or rehab for walls and construction, they’re not keeping track of each line item that their insurance is also playing them for,” Walton said.

An excerpt from a letter (credit: CBS)

An excerpt from a letter (credit: CBS)

She said her office is optimistic it can successfully appeal for some residents so they don’t have to pay at all.

Appeals must be submitted within 60 days from the date the letters were sent.

FEMA says most of its notifications have gone out but there will be a few more — fewer than 100 — that will be sent over the next month.

The inspector general can do random audits of FEMA money for up to seven years.

Resident seeking more information can call Boulder County Long-Term Flood Recovery at 303-442-2178 or the FEMA help line at 800-621-3362.

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