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Huffman Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Stop FEMA Clawbacks of Assistance and Prevent Disaster Revictimization

February 26, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), and Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), and Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not attempt to take back disaster assistance funds it has mistakenly awarded to victims who applied for the help in good faith and spent the money to begin rebuilding their lives.

The legislation, the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act (H.R. 5953), updates current law by requiring FEMA to waive the debt of someone who has received FEMA assistance in cases where no fraud has been committed and when the agency later determines it mistakenly granted the assistance.  Under the current process, FEMA can come back weeks, months, or even years later to seek repayment of funds it awarded victims, even when the agency made the initial error.

“Tearing funds from people who are fighting to rebuild their lives is deplorable.  Victims of natural disasters in California and across the country have been through hell,” said Rep. Huffman. “When they finally receive some measure of relief through compensation, the last thing we should do is pile on their trauma by taking away those funds.  FEMA shouldn’t be able to go after victims when the agency fails to recoup funds from responsible parties.  If an agency mistakenly allocates funds to someone who has applied in good faith, the agency should suffer the consequences – not the victims.”

“This bill stops FEMA from revictimizing the victims of disasters,” said Rep. Graves. “The Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act prevents FEMA from trying to claw back critical assistance that disaster victims, through no fault of their own, have been awarded and have already used in the difficult process of putting their lives back together.  The amount an individual can receive from FEMA in these instances is relatively small in terms of the overall federal budget, but to my constituents in North Missouri and many others across the country, that assistance can be the difference between the road to recovery and the road to ruin.  To try to take that money back from disaster victims, because of a mistake FEMA made, is simply unacceptable.”

“Disaster victims need help they can count on, and the people who lost their homes during the Camp Fire know this too well,” said Rep. LaMalfa. “FEMA should not claw back the individual assistance they provide to those who also receive claims from the PG&E wildfire settlement.  This money is negligible to FEMA, but to wildfire victims, it may be the leg-up they need to recover.  I thank Ranking Member Sam Graves for working with me to ensure the assistance already distributed to Northern California wildfire victims will not be retroactively taken away.”

“The needs of disaster survivors must always come first.  That’s why I am proud to coauthor this bipartisan bill to prevent FEMA from trying to take away critical assistance awarded to survivors who are already in the midst of the often long and hard recovery process,” said Rep. Thompson.  “The Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act is a smart solution that will make a world of difference to people in my community and across our nation rebuilding after disasters.”

“If FEMA makes an error, disaster survivors should not have the burden of proving that a debt should be waived,” said Rep. Plaskett. “This legislation to relieve survivors of this burden will be helpful to my constituents and may go a long way for residents of the Virgin Islands, who may not have the wherewithal to return funds.”

The bill also ensures that FEMA reports to Congress on the number of mistakes it makes in individual assistance award determinations and the agency’s efforts to minimize similar errors in the future.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is scheduled to mark up the legislation tomorrow.  Click here to read the bill.

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