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Bipartisan Bill to Stop Clawbacks of Disaster Assistance to Victims Introduced in House

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today would prevent 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. A similar version of the bill (H.R. 5953 in the 116th Congress) previously passed the House by voice vote on November 17th last year.

If signed into law, the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act (bill text), will require 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.

It 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 Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act was introduced by U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), who is Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA).

“In the wake of a devastating natural disaster, FEMA aid recipients deserve to be confident that the assistance they used to get back on their feet won’t be suddenly revoked due to an error made by the federal government,” said Ranking Member Graves. “While the funds granted in these cases may be relatively small compared to the size of the overall federal budget, they can play a major role in the lives of my constituents in North Missouri and many others across the country. The Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act will ensure disaster victims aren’t unfairly revictimized by the very agency tasked with aiding their path to recovery.”

“It has been more than two years since the Camp Fire burned through Paradise, Magalia, Concow and other ridge areas. Survivors are returning to the Ridge, they are rebuilding and resuming their lives,” Rep. LaMalfa said. “FEMA individual assistance provided over the past two years is not comparable to claims from the PG&E wildfire settlement. Our constituents are not saving their aid in a bank account to pay back the government. It has been spent rebuilding and restoring what they have lost.”

“The wildfire victims in my district, and victims of devastating natural disasters throughout America, have already suffered enough,” said Rep. Garamendi.  “Subjecting them to further hardship by clawing back victims’ compensation that they were awarded is unconscionable.  I’m pleased to join Congressman Sam Graves in supporting his bipartisan legislation to end this attempted clawback of victims’ compensation and ensure that victims of natural disasters can keep the compensation they deserve. I will work tirelessly to ensure this bill becomes law.”

“I want to thank Ranking Member Sam Graves for leading this bill, which makes sure our constituents are not on the hook for FEMA’s mistakes by preventing the federal agency from being able to claw back disaster assistance funds it has previously awarded to individuals and families who applied for the Federal funding after they were affected by natural disasters,” said Rep. González-Colón. “FEMA should be there to support individuals and families when they need it most, not revictimize them when they’re starting over. I look forward to continuing working with the Ranking Member and my colleagues from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to improve the internal accounting practices at FEMA for future disasters while protecting those that already suffered and need to recover.” 

“The federal government was there for the survivors of the 2017 Tubbs Fire with FEMA Individual Assistance to help folks rebuild their homes and their lives.  Fire survivors who received this assistance in good faith should not be expected years later to return even a dime of this money back to the federal government as a result of a settlement with PG&E,” said Rep. Thompson.  “It’s not only unfair to the fire survivors, but also administratively impossible to implement.  That’s why I am proud to cosponsor the bipartisan Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, to ensure that those funds won’t be clawed back as disaster survivors work to rebuild their lives.”

“The last thing we should do is tear funds away from disaster victims who are fighting to rebuild their lives,” said Huffman. “This bill will prevent FEMA from going after survivors 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 deal with the consequences – not the survivors.” 

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