Posted By: Elizabeth Zimmerman, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Response and Recovery
As we mentioned in December, Congress passed a law providing FEMA discretion to waive certain debts for disaster survivors. Since December, we have been working diligently to finalize a process to implement this law, and to offer a fair resolution to survivors who received improper payments through no fault of their own. In order to be eligible for a waiver, the following requirements need to be met under the December law:
- The improper payment was received from disasters declared between August 28, 2005 and the end of 2010. (NOTE: the law does not apply to recoupment efforts for disasters declared after Jan. 1, 2011);
- The improper payment was a result of an error solely on FEMA’s part – not on the part of a survivor;
- The improper payment cannot have involved fraud, presentation of false claim or misrepresentation;
- The survivor household’s adjusted gross income on their most recent Federal tax return was less than $90,000 (a survivor with an income of greater than $90,000 whose case meets the other qualifying criteria could be eligible for a partial waiver); and
- The collection of the debt would be against “equity and good conscience,” meaning that it would be unfair under the circumstances of the case to collect the debt.
So once you receive a Waiver Notice from FEMA, what should you do?
You will have 60 days to respond to the Notice of Waiver you receive in the mail.
Your written letter request must provide certain information that explains:
- Why collecting the debt would cause you serious financial hardship;
- What you have spent the money on and why you are unable to return funds to FEMA. If you happen to have any receipts showing the disaster-related expenses, please provide those to FEMA as well;
- Any other personal circumstances that would make collecting the debt burdensome and unfair.
This includes completing a form that provides a certification to FEMA of your household “Adjusted Gross Income” from your most recent federal tax return for either 2010 or 2011. This is a requirement under the new law.
As we work through this process, FEMA will not send any new debts to Treasury for collection so that survivors will have the opportunity to respond to the Notice of Waiver sent by FEMA.
It is important to note that Congress wrote this law to apply only to recoupment efforts for specific past disasters. In recent years, we have taken significant steps to put strong controls in place to cut down on the percentage of improper payments disbursed after disasters. We will continue to do everything we can to reduce the need for any potential recoupments for current and future disasters.
If you have questions about the process to request a waiver, you may visit www.fema.gov/debtwaiver or contact
FEMA’s Recoupment Helpline
Monday through Friday
9:00 AM - 8:00 PM EST,
If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 1-800-462-7585 directly.
If you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-816-1122.