WASHINGTON — An audit has found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency paid for unused hotel rooms and may have overpaid room taxes as it provided emergency shelter to thousands of disaster victims in 2017.
The audit released Tuesday by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security examined a program that spent about $642 million to provide emergency lodging for nearly 227,000 victims of hurricanes in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Florida and Texas and wildfires in California.
It found that a FEMA contractor did not adequately itemize hotel room taxes and in some cases the hotels appeared to have charged more than the established rate. As a result, the audit could not determine the accuracy of nearly $56 million in hotel taxes.
It found that FEMA didn’t require disaster victims to notify the agency when they checked out of the hotels but sometimes the bills were still paid. As a result, it found, that FEMA “is uncertain about the true magnitude of unnecessary payments for unoccupied hotel rooms” during the period.
The report also faulted FEMA for not dedicating enough staff to help people find permanent housing. That led to more than 26,700 disaster victims staying in hotels longer than the recommended six months.
FEMA told the Inspector General that it is working to address the issues raised by its report, including by dedicating a new unit to oversee the temporary shelter program.