Hurricane Sandy victims are being asked to give back relief money awarded to them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but a fix is in the works, according to local pols.
The federal relief agency claims it erroneously overpaid some victims in the aftermath of the superstorm, and has started demanding that they pay for its mistakes.
An elected official said may low-income residents in Marine Park and throughout his district are unfairly being asked to pay back the funds they have already spent on Sandy-related repairs for their homes.
“They take the money, then they spend it, and FEMA comes along and says, ‘We gave you too much, give it back.’ … This is something that comes up frequently it is just not fair,” said Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park). “They were very poor people — it wasn’t like they were running to Bermuda because they got all this extra money.”
New York senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are pushing the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act in Congress to waive the supposed “debts” the relief agency says superstorm victims owe after receiving more disaster assistance than the government now says they deserved.
The legislation requires the agency to waive all debts related to disaster assistance beginning from January 2012.
The federal agency is trying to claw back an average of $7,000 from each affected victim — more than 60 percent of whom make less than $50,000 a year, according to the senators.
Schumer said that the agency should not require residents to pay back the funds that were awarded because of errors by the agency or the disaster victims, and that residents should only have to return funds found to be awarded through fraud. The senator from Park Slope also said the government should refund any repayments that law-abiding victims have already handed back.
“Much of this disaster aid has been used in legitimate ways to help victims finally get back on their feet after the storm,” said Schumer. “FEMA should waive all debt among superstorm Sandy victims and repay those who have already provided recoupment payments, except where there is clear evidence of fraud.”