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June 22, 2011

Richmond Introduces FEMA Recoupment Fairness Act

(WASHINGTON) – Representatives Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, introduced legislation to prevent FEMA from recouping overpayments of disaster relief assistance from individuals affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. "The FEMA Recoupment Fairness Act" (H.R. 2265) applies if funds were dispersed because of an error by FEMA and there was no fault by the recipient. It does not apply if there is any evidence of fraud, misrepresentation, or the presentation of a false claim. Last Friday, FEMA sent thousands of Notice of Debt letters to individuals who erroneously received disaster assistance payments from the Agency, even though many of these individuals are financially distressed and are still affected by past and present disasters. The miscalculation occurred for a number of reasons, including basic human error and duplication of efforts on the part of either the applicant or FEMA. 

Congressman Richmond released the following statement: "Almost six years after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, the government is attempting recoup disaster assistance from people who didn't do anything wrong. In Orleans and Jefferson Parishes alone, FEMA is asking 104 people to pay an average of $7,000 each. It's absurd! Overpayment was FEMA's fault and FEMA should not penalize people for its mistake, especially when so many people are suffering from the economic downturn" said Richmond. "This legislation simply declares that the government will not go back and try to recoup from the more than 155,000 American citizens affected by these hurricanes who, at the time, lived in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida."

Congressman Thompson released the following statement on the legislation: "I commend my colleague, Congressman Richmond, for working diligently to give a voice to the tens of thousands of Americans who unwittingly and, through no fault of their own, received overpayments from FEMA," said Thompson. "It is just plain wrong and unfair for FEMA to be asking for recoupment payments years later when many of these individuals are still struggling to rebuild their lives."

Congressman Richmond recently introduced an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill to achieve the same goal. A point of order was raised against the amendment, which prevented it from coming to the House Floor for a vote.

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Media Contact:
(Richmond) Aketa Simmons at (202) 225-6636
(Thompson) Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978