U.S. Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA), and Thad Cochran (R-MS) today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed a plan to waive recoupment of improper disaster assistance payments that were disbursed due to government error.
Next week, FEMA will send letters to 90,000 affected individuals and households informing them they may be eligible for a waiver. These individuals and households must then respond to FEMA within 60 days to request a waiver and certify that they meet the criteria, including need, household income and appropriate use of funds.
Senators Pryor and Landrieu worked together to include a provision in the year-end federal spending bill that allows the FEMA Administrator to waive a debt owed to the federal government if the individual earns less than $90,000 and was given assistance due to FEMA error. Previously, FEMA did not have the authority to waive any overpayment debt. This provision prohibits the administrator from waiving any debt that involves fraud. It was based on the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act (DARFA), which was authored by Sen. Pryor and cosponsored by Sens. Landrieu and Cochran.
"FEMA's mission is to bring relief to families in times of great need, not to create more problems for them," Sen. Pryor said. "I was proud to help right this wrong for disaster victims, and I'm pleased FEMA is now working swiftly to implement the law. We need to alleviate this unfair financial hardship so families can focus on rebuilding their lives."
"I commend FEMA for moving swiftly and aggressively to implement a plan that will allow eligible disaster victims to apply for a refund or cancellation of their debt. This announcement will bring great relief to many honest disaster survivors who never intended to misuse funds or take anything to which they were not entitled. To have forced people who experienced great tragedy to pay large sums of money back to the government because of someone else's mistake would have been incredibly unfair," Sen. Landrieu said. "I look forward to continuing to work with Senators Pryor and Cochran, as well as FEMA, to ensure that disaster survivors are treated fairly as they continue to rebuild."
"I appreciate FEMA acting expeditiously to determine how to waive some debts in cases where the federal government erroneously distributed funds during the most severe disasters. The 2005 hurricane season was unprecedented in terms of the damage and chaos it caused along the Gulf Coast, but its magnitude also overwhelmed our government's systems for distributing aid. It simply doesn't make sense for the government to come knocking on the doors of struggling American families, sometimes more than six years after it mistakenly provided aid, and demand the assistance be repaid," Sen. Cochran said.