U.S. Senator Mark Pryor today said he is pleased legislation to protect flood victims from FEMA's mistakes passed the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The legislation will allow FEMA to waive repayments of disaster assistance that were erroneously distributed to individuals 3 years ago under the Bush Administration.
"The people are twice the victim. They are the victim of the storm, but then they are the victim of their government because FEMA has injured them by the way they have handled all of this -- handing out the money erroneously and then demanding immediate repayment three years later," Pryor said. "This bill rights the situation for them. I'm pleased it passed this hurdle, and can now go to the full Senate for consideration."
Pryor said FEMA should pursue repayment of disaster assistance in cases of fraud, which is why he narrowly wrote the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act. As modified, the bill allows the Administrator of FEMA to waive debt owed to the U.S. in which funds were distributed in FEMA error in situations where recoupment would be against "equity and good conscience." The legislation clarifies that the Administrator may not forgive debt owed in cases involving fraud.
"We should absolutely pursue dollars that FEMA gave out when fraud was involved. However, some individuals did everything right and the errors were solely on FEMA's part of the equation. Under these circumstances, my bill offers FEMA some flexibility to waive their debts," Pryor said.
Pryor initially learned about FEMA's collection efforts from a 73-year-old woman in Mountain View, Arkansas. In 2008, after completing an extensive application process and home inspection, FEMA approved $27,000 in disaster assistance for home repairs. Three years later, FEMA informed her that she was never eligible for assistance and that she must repay the funds within 30 days or face high interest charges or other collection actions. According to FEMA, similar "Notice of Debt" letters were sent to 34 additional Arkansas households. The 35 Arkansas households owe a combined total of $200,000