MacArthur Introduces First Bill to Help Sandy Victims
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Tom MacArthur introduced his first bill, the Disaster Assistance Fairness and Accountability Act of 2015, to fix FEMA’s recoupment process for disaster aid and protect survivors of natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.
“In 2012, Superstorm Sandy hammered our coastline and left too many of our New Jersey families facing devastating destruction and damages,” MacArthur said. “While we’ve been helping our neighbors rebuild and renew in the wake of this storm, the federal government has sometimes been an obstacle along that path to recovery.”
“That’s why I’m introducing this bill today to protect survivors of Superstorm Sandy from the federal government’s errors,” MacArthur continued. “The Disaster Assistance Fairness and Accountability Act tackles a problem that I’ve been working on since even before my election. In Ocean County, some Sandy victims who received disaster assistance from the government are now being required to give it back because FEMA claims they made a mistake.”
“I heard from many of these individuals facing FEMA recoupment at a free legal services event I hosted in December with Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato, Legal Services of New Jersey, and the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group,” MacArthur added. “While the government should certainly crack down on those who are abusing the system, the majority of these people have abided by the law. They deserve our protection and assistance, not a visit from a bill collector.”
The Disaster Assistance Fairness and Accountability Act would prohibit FEMA from recouping funds except under certain circumstances. The bill makes provisions to protect victims from recoupment if they filled out accurate applications and were awarded aid based on those applications, even if FEMA later questions the basis of the grant. It also shifts the burden of proof so that FEMA must document the guilt of those who allegedly submitted inaccurate or falsified applications for aid, instead of requiring individuals to prove their innocence. Finally, it applies a three year statute of limitations on recoupment actions, as there is currently no limit.
“We’re grateful for Congressman MacArthur’s help on this important issue, and are pleased that he’s taking steps in Congress to protect victims of Superstorm Sandy,” said Sue Marticek, Executive Director of the Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group. “We look forward to working with him over the next few years to help Ocean County rebuild and recover from this disaster.”
“As it says in the title, this bill simply comes down to fairness and accountability,” MacArthur concluded. “In my 30 years in the insurance business, I’ve seen numerous occasions where an insurance company paid a claim, only to later question the payment. But in the private sector, an insurer doesn’t get to just take their money back. Ultimately, the federal government should be held to that same standard, which is why I’ll fight to ensure that FEMA treats all disaster survivors fairly.”