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FEMA sends assistance acceptance letters to hundreds of people by mistake

People in southwest Florida have received letters saying that they were awarded disaster assistance, but it was an accident by FEMA.

NORTH PORT, Fla. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent letters notifying hundreds of people impacted by Hurricane Ian that they were awarded disaster assistance. Turns out, the letters were sent out by mistake.

Pamela Johnson and her husband rode out Hurricane Ian in their North Port home. 

"It was like seven hours of just hearing the wind," Johnson said.

Now, the couple said they are dealing with extensive damage to their house. Their roof is caved in and parts of their ceilings have water damage.

Johnson immediately reached out to her homeowners insurance and applied for FEMA's disaster assistance, specifically for FEMA's Critical Needs Assistance, which is a one-time $700 payment. 

The couple got a letter that said they were awarded $700 from FEMA for that assistance. 

"On it [the letter], it says the U.S. Department of Treasury will give me a check or deposit it in my bank account," Johnson said.

Credit: Pamela Johnson

The money never came in, so Johnson called FEMA. 

"I was on the phone for three hours and 41 minutes to find out this letter that said I was approved, but I’m not really approved," she said.

However, the letter was sent to her by mistake. According to FEMA officials, Pamela is one of 400 people that experienced the same situation.

A FEMA spokesperson told 10 Tampa Bay the incident is "unfortunate" and "they deeply regret it."

FEMA officials also said they stopped reverse payments for 400 people. Out of those people, 271 are eligible.

FEMA officials said they are in the process of reaching out to everyone who was not meant to receive the letter.

A FEMA spokesperson released the following statement:

“We are committed to addressing the needs of survivors, especially those with added economic burden, and are contacting each person who received an improper payment to determine the best course of action for their unique situation.”

Johnson said when she found out the letter was a mistake, she was very upset.

 "I cried and I was upset because I don’t ask for help very often and I haven’t in my lifetime," she said.

Johnson said her and her husband were banking on the $700 in assistance to pay for insulin and other necessary things they need.

A FEMA official told said they will work with Johnson directly to see if there is any assistance they can provide her with.

If this happened to you, FEMA officials said the best thing to do is to go into one of FEMA'S disaster recovery centers or call them.

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