WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (N.J.-06) today reintroduced legislation to prevent so-called clawbacks of federal disaster assistance from victims of Superstorm Sandy. These efforts to retake money distributed after Sandy re-victimize those who suffered the most when Sandy struck just over five years ago.
The Congressional leaders originally introduced this legislation in 2015 in response to recoupment letters sent by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to recover what it considered overpayments. FEMA alone has clawed back almost $3 million from more than 750 Sandy victims
“Disaster victims should never have to pay for someone else’s mistake,” said Sen. Menendez. “These families have suffered enough, many are barely holding on financially—emotionally—and can’t afford to pay back money they thought all along was rightfully theirs to use towards their recovery.”
“Homeowners still struggling to rebuild from the devastation of Sandy should not be forced to repay grants that were awarded because of mistakes made by FEMA,” said Rep. Pallone. “While I understand the importance of reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in the system, the efforts to do so should not be made on the back end of this process in a way that punishes disaster victims with an unaffordable bill. I’m proud to join Senator Menendez in reintroducing this legislation that will protect New Jersey homeowners from FEMA’s misguided efforts.”
The proposed legislation would require FEMA to forgive debts for Sandy victims if the funds were awarded as a result of the government’s mistake. It would not apply to cases of fraud.
In the years following Sandy, FEMA sent hundreds of debt notice letters to New Jersey disaster victims demanding they pay back money FEMA erroneously gave them. The letters threatened legal action, negative reports to credit agencies, property liens and their future eligibility for federal disaster assistance. Many of the people targeted had already spent the money they got making necessary repairs to their damaged homes and did not have the means to make restitution payments.
Congress passed similar legislation following Katrina in response to comparable action taken by FEMA against innocent disaster victims.
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