Graves sponsors bill to prevent FEMA from revictimizing disaster victims

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) on Feb. 25 introduced a bipartisan bill that would hold the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accountable for any funding authorization mistakes it makes.

“This bill stops FEMA from revictimizing the victims of disasters,” said Rep. Graves, ranking member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is considering the bill.

Rep. Graves sponsored the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, H.R. 5953, with seven cosponsors, including U.S. Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Jared Huffman (D-CA), to require the FEMA administrator to waive certain debts owed to the United States related to covered assistance provided to an individual or household, according to the text of the bill.

“The Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act prevents FEMA from trying to claw back critical assistance that disaster victims, through no fault of their own, have been awarded and have already used in the difficult process of putting their lives back together,” said Rep. Graves. “The amount an individual can receive from FEMA in these instances is relatively small in terms of the overall federal budget, but to my constituents in north Missouri and many others across the country, that assistance can be the difference between the road to recovery and the road to ruin.”

If enacted, H.R. 5953 specifically would require FEMA to waive the debt of someone who has received FEMA assistance in cases where no fraud has been committed and when the agency later determines it mistakenly granted the assistance, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Graves’ office.

Currently, FEMA may come back weeks, months or even years later to seek repayment of funds it awarded to victims even if the agency made the initial error, according to the summary.

“To try to take that money back from disaster victims, because of a mistake FEMA made, is simply unacceptable,” Rep. Graves said.

The bill also would ensure that FEMA reports to Congress on the number of mistakes it makes in individual assistance award determinations, as well as the agency’s efforts to minimize similar errors in the future.