The Senate Appropriations Committee late Wednesday agreed to a Pryor measure that will allow FEMA to waive repayments of disaster assistance that were erroneously distributed to individuals over the past six years.
"Following severe flooding three years ago, many families underwent FEMA's extensive application and inspection process in order to rebuild and recover. They filled out all the paperwork and did everything right, but FEMA made mistakes in paying out assistance. Now, the agency is demanding repayment from these families," Pryor said. "My provision simply allows FEMA to back down in cases where the agency is at fault."
Pryor, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the provision is part of the FY2012 Homeland Security Appropriations Act. It 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. Similar legislation, the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act, passed favorably out of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year.
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 122 additional Arkansas households. The 123 Arkansas households owe a combined total of $795,308.