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FEMA

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. PRYOR. Madam President, in some ways, I hate to come to the floor and talk about this because I very seldom do, but I am announcing to all my colleagues and to the administration that I am putting a hold on all Treasury Department nominations until I get something resolved.

Let me back up and tell the story. Some of my colleagues are familiar with this story because this has come up a few times before and I have already spoken on the floor a couple times about this and certainly in the Homeland Security Committee I have spoken about this.

A few years ago, in Arkansas, we had some floods. In this one particular area around Mountain View, AR, some people's houses were flooded. FEMA came in. In one particular case--in the Guglielmanas case, which is a family there--they talked to this couple. They are on Social Security. They talked to this couple about how they are entitled to some FEMA recovery money to repair their home. FEMA was actually in the home, took pictures, helped them fill out the paperwork, walked them through the entire process, and they ended up getting $27,000 in FEMA money for disaster recovery. The Guglielmanas did everything absolutely by the book. They followed all of FEMA's directions. They did it picture perfect, exactly the way we would think all citizens should conduct their business.

Then, 3 years later, they got a notice in the mail and FEMA said: Oh, we messed up. We shouldn't have given you that money because of some technical reason and because of that we now want all that money back.

They worked a great hardship on this family. This is supposed to be government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That is not what has happened in this case. This has worked a great hardship on this family.

There are lots of community efforts around these floods: local civic clubs, churches, the community at large rolled out to help people. The Guglielmanas said they didn't need that because they had FEMA's help. So they have foregone a lot of local assistance, a lot of charity assistance, general help from their friends and neighbors because of FEMA. Now FEMA has come back and said they owe them the entire $27,000. This could ruin them financially.

I have met with FEMA Director Fugate. He and I have had what I would think of as productive conversations, although this matter hasn't been resolved. One of the things we talked about is to get an amendment to the existing statute. We are working on that. We are working that bill through the system right now in the Senate. I have worked with colleagues on the Homeland Security Committee and also the Appropriations Committee. I am not saying we would have unanimous agreement on my approach, but certainly I have been trying to work with anybody in the Senate to make this bill better.

Unfortunately, what has happened in the last few days is FEMA has now taken the additional step of turning this matter over to the Department of Treasury for debt collection. To add insult to injury and to rub salt in the wounds, this $27,000 debt, now with fines and penalties and interest, has gone to $37,000--$37,000 in debt after these folks were assured by the government they were completely entitled to because this was flood recovery; and the only reason they are not entitled to it is because of some technical issues that FEMA should have recognized from day one. They should have never offered to help these people, but what they have done is, they have now caused them great injury.

This is a matter of equity and fairness. Enough is enough. We have been talking to FEMA for months about this. Now Treasury is involved. Enough is enough. We need to get this resolved for this family and maybe a few others.

It is not just localized in Arkansas. We are going to see this happen over and over around the country because FEMA has a backlog of these cases--it is a long story--that got tied up in litigation for a few years and I can almost guarantee that virtually every Senator in this Chamber at some point is going to have to deal with this.

I hope all will listen to what I am saying and, hopefully, help me get this resolved. But that is why I am putting a hold on all the Treasury nominees. We need to get this resolved, and we are going to do whatever it takes to get it resolved. We want to resolve this situation fairly for this family in Arkansas. Again, they are just the first of many whom we are going to see who have this same type problem.

FEMA has done them harm. Our government has done them harm and put them at a disadvantage. There is a principle in law called detrimental reliance. These people clearly relied on the government and relied on FEMA to their detriment and they are paying the price and the penalty for that now. When the IRS and Treasury gets involved, there are penalties and interest. American citizens should not be treated this way, especially those who are playing by the rules and don't have any other recourse.

That is all I wanted to say in my morning business--I see we have several in the Chamber to talk on other matters--that I am putting Treasury on notice that I am going to hold all their nominees until we sit down and work through this and, hopefully, get a good and fair result for this one family in Arkansas.

I yield the floor.


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