Posted by: Elizabeth Zimmerman, Deputy Associate Administrator, Response and Recovery
As some frequent blog readers may remember, back in January, we first explained on this blog that FEMA, along with other federal agencies government wide, is required by law to identify any potential improper payments of federal disaster aid, and to take steps to recover those funds.
I also testified before the Senate on this same matter back in March.
Recoupment is not a new process that only FEMA is required to engage in. Our agency recently reinitiated the process after placing it on hold in 2007. And like FEMA, other federal agencies are also required to recoup improper payments that they may have made. But with the recent severe storms and flooding, we understand that this process raises many concerns, especially among current disaster survivors applying for federal assistance.
Our priority is to make sure that people and communities impacted by the tornadoes are getting the aid they need, and we continue to encourage everyone in eligible states and counties to apply for federal assistance.
Overpayments sometimes occur because FEMA provides Individual Assistance in advance of insurance coverage - and later receipt of that coverage by an individual creates a duplication. In addition, after most disasters there is a small percentage of funds that are disbursed because of processing and human error, largely resulting from the speed by which we distribute assistance.
In recent years, strong protections have been put in place to reduce the number of errors that typically lead to improper disaster assistance payments. These protections are designed to better serve disaster survivors and reduce the number of recoupments for current and future disasters. And as result of these changes, we have already seen our error rate for assistance payments drop from 14 percent during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to about two percent on average for disasters last year.
Recoupment is a difficult process and one that FEMA, under legal requirements passed by Congress, has worked hard to make as fair as possible for both disaster survivors and taxpayers. We continue to focus on making sure that everyone – whether previous, current or future disaster survivors – has clear and complete information about the recoupment process.
And, we continue to encourage all survivors of the tornadoes, flooding and other recent disasters to contact FEMA to apply for federal disaster aid.
You have most likely seen this information, but in case you may have missed it, there are three easy ways for disaster survivors to apply: