New legislation to extend recoupment fairness to Sandy victims
U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have announced legislation to extend recoupment fairness to Superstorm Sandy victims, some of whom are now being asked by FEMA to pay back money already spent on their recovery effort.
After Sandy hit in October 2012, FEMA made disaster assistance payments to victims throughout the hard-hit areas in New York. As part of its obligation to reduce fraud and waste, FEMA conducts audits of individual assistance payments to identify improper payments made to disaster victims. When FEMA believes it has uncovered improper payment, the agency will attempt to recoup the entire grant.
More than two years after Superstorm Sandy, some recipients of disaster assistance are now being blindsided with such recoupment letters from FEMA, requiring them to pay back money already put toward their struggle to recover and funds that many no longer have on hand.
In the aftermath of the storm, the average recoupment amount has been $7,000, and more than 60 percent of those New Yorkers who received recoupment notices have an income of less than $50,000. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that the vast majority of these cases are not cases of fraud, but rather honest mistakes on behalf of FEMA or the disaster victim.
Previously, the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act of 2011 protected against this situation, granting FEMA with additional authority to waive debts incurred as a result of improper payments; however, the legislation expired in 2011. Given the financially devastating impacts of Sandy and other recent disasters, Schumer and Gillibrand are announcing the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act of 2015, which will extend and expand upon the previous recoupment legislation.
“Requiring our New York’s Superstorm Sandy victims to repay thousands of dollars in aid, two-and-a-half years after the storm, is a devastating request for many of these individuals and families, because they have already put this money to good use. This legislation will make sure that these victims can keep this much-needed money,” said Schumer. “Much of this disaster aid has been used in legitimate ways to help victims finally get back on their feet after the storm. FEMA should waive all debt among Superstorm Sandy victims and repay those who have already provided recoupment payments, except where there is clear evidence of fraud.”
“The victims who received FEMA repayments used those dollars to rebuild their homes and businesses, and for FEMA to come back more than two years later to ask for that money back is unfair,” said Gillibrand. “The funding helped begin the process of rebuilding, and with that work still underway, we must protect the individuals and families who responsibly used these resources to get back on their feet.”
The Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act of 2015 extends upon previous DARFA legislation. This act:
· Requires FEMA to waive debts, related to disaster assistance provided by FEMA to individuals and households for all declared disasters from January 1, 2012 through date of enactment;
· Requires FEMA to refund disaster victims for recoupment payments made in all cases that would have been waived had this act been in effect when any such payment was made;
· Forbids FEMA from waiving a debt if the debt involves fraud, the intentional presentation of a false claim, or intentional misrepresentation by the debtor or any party having an interest in the claim.
—Information from Schumer’s and Gillibrand’s offices
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