Bill to Prevent FEMA Clawbacks of Disaster Aid to Become Law
The U.S. Senate on December 15, 2022, approved legislation that will ensure innocent disaster victims won’t have their assistance clawed back by the federal government when it makes an error. The bill passed the House on December 8th as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and it will now be sent to the President to be enacted into law.
The Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act was originally introduced in the House of Representatives by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee lead Republican Sam Graves (R-MO), and additional cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Daniel Webster (R-FL), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR). The House initially passed the bill on June 15, 2021.
“When flooding, tornadoes, and other disasters destroy the homes, farms, businesses, and livelihoods of Americans, victims who receive FEMA assistance to get back on their feet shouldn’t be further punished by the government when it makes a mistake,” said Rep. Graves. “The funds granted in these cases may be relatively small compared to the size of the overall federal budget, but they can make all the difference to my constituents in North Missouri and others across the country who are recovering. With my bill now becoming law, it will ensure that disaster victims aren’t unfairly revictimized by the agency that’s supposed to be helping them rebuild and restore their lives.”
“Florida is no stranger to the devastating effects of hurricanes and natural disasters,” said Rep. Webster. “Federal aid is crucial for many victims’ ability to recover and rebuild in the wake of disaster. FEMA should be focused on helping victims recover, not putting them on the hook for errors made by the government. This commonsense bill will help protect victims and bring further accountability to FEMA.”
“There are thousands of victims of wildfires in Northern California and even more across the nation who are reeling after natural disasters,” said Rep. LaMalfa. “They are applying for federal assistance in good faith to help them rebuild their lives and they shouldn’t be punished for FEMA’s mistakes. In the aftermath of a wildfire, tornado, flood, earthquake, or other disaster, people’s focus is on rebuilding their lives. The federal government should be helping them, not seizing money because of bureaucratic mistakes and revictimizing them all over again.”
“More than $72 billion in disaster recovery funding has been allocated for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the 2020 earthquakes, and other subsequent natural disasters like Fiona recently,” said Rep. González-Colón. “Some of my constituents lost everything and rely mostly or entirely upon federal aid to rebuild their homes. It is unfair to take away resources from those individuals and families who are already trying to put their lives together, especially if it is due to FEMA’s own error. I thank my colleague Sam Graves for leading this bill in the House to protect the victims and lead FEMA to correct these mistakes in the future.”
The Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act prevents the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from taking back disaster assistance funds that it mistakenly awarded to victims who applied for assistance in good faith and utilized that money to help rebuild their lives.The bill requires FEMA to waive the debt of disaster relief recipients in cases where the agency later determined it mistakenly granted assistance, but no fraud was committed. Under current law, FEMA can come back weeks, months, or even years later to seek repayment of funds it awarded victims, even when the agency is at fault for making the error and the funds were appropriately used in the wake of a disaster. The bill also ensures that FEMA reports to Congress on its efforts to minimize similar errors in the future.