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Thursday, January 22, 2009

I ♥ the Department of Homeland Security


Gee, thanks, FEMA!

The day after Hurricane Wilma hammered us, a rumor was circulating at work that if we bought a generator while our power was out, FEMA would reimburse us. I called the FEMA hotline, and was amazed at how quickly I was assigned a case number and how sweet and understanding the customer service woman was. She asked how much our household income was, and I told her, figuring FEMA would only reimburse us a fraction of the cost of the generator, but anything was better than nothing.

So we immediately went out looking for a generator, and lucked into a little baby one at Home Depot for $569. We saved the receipt to show the FEMA people, and we brought the machine home but never started it up. As civil servants, we were working 12-hour shifts after the storm, handing out ice and water and MRE’s and tarps during the day, and in the evening cooking meals for law enforcement professionals who were also working 12 hour shifts on the streets. There was no one at home to keep gas in the generator, and the dog plays with matches and can’t be trusted around flammables. So the refrigerator was once again emptied, and the melody of generators all night long did not include the hum of our own.

A few weeks later the FEMA dude showed up, looking a bit worn from his Katrina stint in New Orleans, but nonetheless very friendly. He regaled us with riddles and funny stories. Some of the punch lines were:

· You got living room in my floating casino! No, you got floating casino in my living room!

· Three. One to paddle, one to loot, and one to give mouth-to-mouth.

· Are those stolen Nikes in your pockets, or are you just glad to see me?

He took a look at our $569 generator receipt and made sure we possessed the machine in question. He said someone would call, and we waited for the decision.

So how surprised was I when, on my next bank statement, there was a direct deposit from FEMA for $835.97. Not $569, the cost of the generator, but $835.97. God Bless America! I love living here! I thought that the FEMA dude must have also seen my other receipts, which included screen and spline for my blown-out screen enclosure. I figured he just really, really liked me, and decided to throw some more cash in the pot. And I hadn’t even gotten him drunk! So FEMA actually paid what my homeowner’s insurance didn’t, or so I rationalized. Who says this isn’t a great country? As it turns out, FEMA overpaid thousands of people in a generous “keep the change” gesture. Even billionaire beachfront homeowners got in on the bounty.

The FEMA customer service rep on the phone had told me I was entitled to some garden tools, and I could have really used a chain saw after that storm, but I figure, with a little luck, next year we can do this all over again. Next year can be the year of the free chainsaw, self-propelled mower and pressure washer I’ve been hinting for. With FEMA so generous, who needs Santa? Why even have homeowner’s insurance? If I play my cards right, I can tell State Farm to take a flying leap at a revolving donut hole, and I’ll rely on the government to finance my losses. Man, how many years have I been missing out on this windfall?

I guess, then, it’s safe to assume that all government agencies are this generous. Who knew? Maybe when I file my taxes next year, someone from the IRS will come out, make sure I really do work, and then return my check with a note: “No, Bill, really. We can’t. As an underpaid municipal government employee, you need this more than we do. And enclosed please find an extra grand for your honesty.”

Maybe a rep from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will come out, look at the post-hurricane tree stumps and landscaping devastation in my yard, loan me his handkerchief for my tears, and pull in and plant a truckload of healthy, mature hardwoods. “Oh, and here’s a little extra,” he’ll say, forking over a fistful of cash. “Buy yourself some nice border shrubbery.”

Soon I’ll be hearing from Social Security. “Dear Bill, Even though you’re not retirement age, we’d like to recognize you for working since you were 14 years old. Enough already. It’s time to retire. Go see the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. You know you’ve always wanted to. You can afford it now. Quit your job today. We’ll carry you from here. Enclosed please find a check for the first installment, and there will be many more checks to come. We’ve even done all the paperwork for you. You deserve this. Happy retirement!”

And I see no reason for this trend to not trickle down to even the local government I work for. My last paycheck will come with a little post-it note stuck on it: “We recognize that you did the work of two people around here, so we’re doubling your salary, retroactively, from your employment start date. Enjoy your new life, and as a bonus, your utilities will be gratis from now on.”

Any American who says this isn’t the greatest country on earth clearly hasn’t been through a devastating natural disaster and had the government there to pick up the pieces for them. If the government has disappointed them, it’s probably because they suffered a loss greater than $835.97, which was the default amount for Wilma victims. Your natural disaster may be higher. Some restrictions apply. FEMA can’t perform miracles, after all. Especially when there are so many generators to overpay for. I guess the real lesson learned here is to keep your total net worth below $835.97. In other words, live in a tent.

Note to FEMA dude: I’m keeping the change. I’d send it back, but I can’t trust that you’d put the money to good use, so thanks again.

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