Federal elected officials, supported by state representatives, this week indicated that they would be drafting legislation to provide relief for Superstorm Sandy victims who are in debt to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Two years after the thoroughly destructive storm burst through parts of the city, including Howard Beach and the Rockaways, FEMA began issuing notices to some property owners to collect accidental overpayments.
U.S. Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) are leading a bipartisan effort to forgive Sandy disaster-relief debts.
“To prevent the U.S. government from dragging everyday hardworking Americans through a potentially lengthy and costly collection process, I am drafting legislation with Sen. Menendez to provide relief for Sandy victims who are in debt to FEMA through no fault of their own,” Meeks said.
According to Meeks, the overpayments are the result of the size and scope of FEMA’s response to the storm.
“Some of these overpayments were for as little as $1,000 and went to retired seniors. For these seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income, as well as the tens of thousands of other recipients of overpayments, the debt-collection process potentially includes attaching one’s Social Security benefits, reducing their credit scores, and lengthy and costly litigation,” Meeks noted.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Ozone Park) added, “Families who received additional assistance, through no fault of their own, should not be asked to return money that was clearly spent on aiding their recovery from Sandy. Passing the Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act will protect our struggling families from drowning in debt to FEMA. Congressman Meeks has been a tireless fighter for Sandy-devastated families and I commend him for introducing this legislation and pledge my full support to ensure that it becomes the law and provides Sandy victims the relief they deserve.”
Jim Kelly, who incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to his Breezy Point home, was forced to rent an apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with his wife and 6-year-old child until they moved back home last Christmas. The former Verizon manager said FEMA sent him the so-called “claw-back” letter last week, indicating that he owes the agency more than $5,600. He went on to say that a FEMA supervisor suggested Kelly start paying the debt while he appealed it.
“It’s just insult to injury,” Kelly said. “[The government] keeps kicking us while we’re down.”
By Michael V. Cusenza