This week, legislation crafted by Congressman Doug LaMalfa to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from taking back disaster assistance funds it considers duplicative with legal settlement claims will be signed into law.
H.R. 539, the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, was a joint effort between LaMalfa and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee lead Republican Sam Graves, who sponsored the bill. Despite the work of LaMalfa and Graves to get the legislation unanimously passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2021, the Senate had not passed the bill until it was included in the National Defense Authorization Act last week.
“There are thousands of victims of wildfires in Northern California and even more across the nation who are reeling after natural disasters,” said 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.”
H.R. 539 also includes a provision crafted by Representative Sam Graves to require that FEMA waives debts related to disaster assistance for recipients when the agency later determines it mistakenly overpaid them. 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 requires FEMA to report to Congress on its efforts to minimize similar errors in the future.