Sen. Menendez Leads Call for FEMA to Cease ‘Claw Backs’ of Relief Funds from Sandy Victims

Sen. Menendez Leads Call for FEMA to Cease ‘Claw Backs’ of Relief Funds from Sandy Victims


WASHINGTON, DC – In a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and members of the New Jersey federal delegation, including Senator Cory Booker and Representatives Frank Pallone, Bill Pascrell, Rush Holt, Albio Sires, Frank LoBiondo, Leonard Lance, Chris Smith, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Jon Runyan and Donald Norcross, called for the agency to end “claw backs” of disaster relief funds awarded to and spent by Sandy victims still struggling to recover.  

“These victims, who were approved and awarded a grant by FEMA, put this money towards their recovery effort, and had no way of knowing they might be required to repay the funds over a year later,” they wrote. “Now, as many families still struggle to recover over two years after the storm, they are being bombarded with debt notice letters demanding repayment and threatening legal action for non-compliance. These disaster victims are already stretched to their financial limits, and many simply cannot afford to pay an average bill of almost $7,000 on top of all their other rebuilding expenses.”

Specifically, the members called on FEMA to clarify the appeal guidelines for individuals who, through no fault of their own, received additional funding as a result of a FEMA error and have been sent recoupment letters, and waive the debts owed in situations where such recoupment would create financial hardship or hinder the individual’s recovery effort. 

“Thanks to personal resilience, communities pulling together, and financial assistance from both federal and state governments, we are making progress on recovery,” the letter said.  “But, this progress is nascent and vulnerable, making it imperative that we not pull the rug out from underneath vulnerable families.” 

Click here to download a copy of the letter. Full text below:

The Honorable Craig Fugate
Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20410

Dear Administrator Fugate:

We are writing to inquire about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) recent actions in attempting to “claw back” disaster relief funds from Sandy victims that were awarded due to the Agency’s error. Done without giving due consideration for the unique circumstances facing disaster assistance recipients, this policy goes against good conscience, encumbering honest Americans with a financial burden they cannot afford and threatening to hinder ongoing recovery efforts.

While we fully support the Agency’s efforts to retrieve funds that were gained by fraudulent means, most, if not all, of these cases involve individuals who were overpaid disaster assistance because of human error on the part of FEMA or the applicant. These victims, who were approved and awarded a grant by FEMA, put this money towards their recovery effort, and had no way of knowing they might be required to repay the funds over a year later. Now, as many families still struggle to recover over two years after the storm, they are being bombarded with debt notice letters demanding repayment and threatening legal action for non-compliance. These disaster victims are already stretched to their financial limits, and many simply cannot afford to pay an average bill of almost $7,000 on top of all their other rebuilding expenses.

There is no doubt that efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse by reducing improper payments is a responsibility of FEMA, but those efforts are best made at the beginning of the process and must be done in a fair way that does not hinder recovery. We urge you to give every consideration possible to the unique circumstances facing improper payment recipients. Specifically, we ask that you clarify the appeal guidelines for individuals receiving recoupment letters and waive the debts owed in situations where such recoupment would create financial hardship or hinder the individual’s recovery effort. By doing this in a balanced way, FEMA can protect taxpayer dollars while avoiding a man-made disaster that stretches families past their financial breaking point and impedes our region’s recovery.  

Over two years ago, Americans were given the daunting task of rebuilding their homes and their lives. Few, if any, were prepared for the expensive financial and emotional toll that such a recovery would require. Thanks to personal resilience, communities pulling together, and financial assistance from both federal and state governments, we are making progress on recovery. But, this progress is nascent and vulnerable, making it imperative that we not pull the rug out from underneath vulnerable families. We appreciate your continued efforts to support the recovery and we are confident that you will give appropriate consideration and attention to this vital issue.

Sincerely,

ROBERT MENENDEZ                                           CORY A. BOOKER
United States Senator                                           United States Senator

FRANK LOBIONDO                                               FRANK PALLONE
Member of Congress                                             Member of Congress

BILL PASCRELL                                                   CHRIS SMITH
Member of Congress                                             Member of Congress

RUSH HOLT                                                         RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN
Member of Congress                                             Member of Congress

LEONARD LANCE                                                ALBIO SIRES
Member of Congress                                             Member of Congress

JON RUNYAN                                                       DONALD NORCROSS
Member of Congress                                             Member of Congress          

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