IOWA CITY, Iowa — U.S. senators signaled Wednesday that Congress won’t step in immediately to help disaster victims who have been asked to pay back millions of dollars of aid that the Federal Emergency Management Agency now calls improper.
A Senate committee delayed action on a measure proposed by Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas that would allow FEMA to waive debts in cases involving its own errors. It also would require the agency to waive debts in cases where money was mistakenly given to people who should have been ineligible because their communities do not participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
The committee’s hearing came one day after The Associated Press reported FEMA has sent letters to 5,560 disaster victims asking them to repay $22 million the agency now says they should never have received dating back to 2005. FEMA admits the mistaken payments were largely its own fault because employees gave money to ineligible individuals, approved duplicate payments for costs already covered by insurance and made other errors.
Pryor urged his colleagues to take quick action, noting “the time is ticking” for those who have received debt notices to pay the money back or file appeals.
But the Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs did not have the quorum needed to advance the bill because several members were absent Wednesday. Its chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, noted the measure was controversial among members and needed additional work.