For Some Superstorm Sandy Victims, The Government Wants Its Money Back


Liz Treston received thousands of dollars from FEMA and the Small Business Administration after Superstorm Sandy destroyed her basement. Two years later, FEMA demanded more than $4,000 of that money back. (Alex Welsh for NPR)

As the rain and wind swirled outside the window during Superstorm Sandy more than two years ago, Liz Treston’s family helped her into bed.

Treston, 54, was disabled in a diving accident when she was in her 20s. She uses a wheelchair to get around her Long Island, N.Y., home and an electronic lift machine to get into her bed. The night the storm hit, she wanted to be ready for sleep in case the power went out.

Under the covers, she listened as water rushed into her basement, pouring over the appliances and furniture she kept down there.

“I’m laying in bed and I could hear the refrigerator fall over and just make this wretched screeching noise, and it’s dark,” she says. “You could feel the water rising. I opened the drapery and you could actually see whitecaps in the middle of the street.”

The government gave her money to fix what she lost that night. But they accidentally overpaid her. And now they say she owes that excess back to them, more than two years later.

This investigation was the focal point of the NPR portion of my time as the 2014-15 Stone & Holt Weeks Fellow. It aired nationally on Morning Edition, and NPR’s graphics team did a fantastic job visualizing the numbers. You can listen and read the story here.