Jewish World Review July 5, 2011 / 3 Tamuz, 5771
Congressional pensions; D.C. online gambling; FEMA errors
By Lisa Hoffman
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | WASHINGTON --- It won't win them many friends on the Hill, but Rep. Bobby Schilling and Sen. Sherrod Brown think they and their colleagues shouldn't be able to tap their government pensions until they reach their official retirement age.
Schilling, a Republican from Illinois, and Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, have introduced measures that would require members of Congress to wait until they are at least 65 years old before getting full pension checks.
Depending on when they came to Congress, lawmakers are covered by one of four federal retirement plans. One lets lawmakers retire with full benefits at age 50 if they have been in Congress or other federal employment for 20 years, or at any age after serving 25 years. Short-timers -- those with only five years under their belts -- get their full benefits at age 62.
That's a far better deal than that available to ordinary Americans, who can get partial Social Security payments when they reach 62, but don't qualify for full checks until they hit 65 or 67, regardless of how many years they have worked.
Citizens of the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress, but they may soon have the right to do something residents elsewhere won't have: play online poker.
Once wildly popular, Internet poker games largely disappeared from the Web after federal authorities in April charged the operators of the three largest sites with bank fraud in violation of a 2006 federal law.
But that law left it legal for state governments to offer online poker to anyone physically located within their borders. The city is the first jurisdiction in the country to do just that, although the specific rules of play are still being hashed out.
The D.C. city council initially shrugged off concerns about encouraging gambling, seeing the measure as a potential source of revenue from tourists or patrons who live in the metropolitan area and come to the city to play. While the council is revisiting the issue, support remains strong.
Congress, which holds veto power over the D.C. budget, did not object.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent out dunning letters to 5,560 disaster victims, directing them to repay their share of more than $22 million in hurricane aid that they received in error.
In most cases, the mistakes were not made by the victims, but by FEMA. A woman in Arkansas received $27,000 in disaster aid in 2008 that was approved by FEMA after she submitted an application and FEMA inspected her home to verify her claim. This year, FEMA not only demanded the money back, but also gave her just 30 days to do so.
That doesn't sit well with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has approved a measure giving FEMA the authority to waive such repayments if the cases did not involve fraud.
FEMA wants to collect the money it says was paid in error, mostly to victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. It intends to give the recipients the right to appeal and to negotiate a compromise.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's inspector general found FEMA shelled out more than $600 million in improper aid payments because of fraud or human error.
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