(Photo: Pamela Andrade)
Just weeks after the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, FEMA has expanded efforts to “recoup”—that is, to demand repayment of—millions of dollars in disaster assistance given to Superstorm Sandy victims.
In notices recently received by storm victims across New York, FEMA has demanded repayment of disaster assistance awards—some totaling tens of thousands of dollars—within just 30 days. What’s more, these recoupment notices often provide little more than vague and generic explanations for FEMA’s decisions, leaving many applicants confused and overwhelmed.
Although a FEMA recoupment can feel like a devastating blow, it doesn’t have to be one. If you receive a recoupment notice from FEMA, here are three important steps you should take:
1. Seek legal help NOW.
You don’t have to face your FEMA recoupment alone. Organizations throughout New York are here to help you navigate the recoupment process with free legal advice and advocacy. Connect with one here.
2. Know your options.
Depending on your individual situation, you can respond to FEMA’s recoupment in two ways:
First, you can appeal the recoupment. An appeal is appropriate if you think FEMA made a mistake regarding your recoupment. FEMA made a mistake if it:
- Used incomplete or inaccurate information to make its decision; or
- Violated any policies, regulations, or laws in reaching its decision.
In order to win your appeal, you’ll need to:
- Find out why FEMA decided to recoup your disaster assistance,
- Explain why FEMA’s decision is incorrect, and
- Provide proof that FEMA’s decision is incorrect.
Second, you can request to compromise the recoupment. A request to compromise the recoupment is appropriate if you can’t afford to repay your disaster assistance award. When you request a compromise, FEMA will send you a package of forms that ask questions about your finances. You must complete and submit this package within 30 days. If FEMA reviews your financial information and agrees that you cannot afford to repay the debt, FEMA may offer you an affordable payment plan, forgive a portion of your debt, or forgive your entire debt.
Remember that you do not have to choose between appealing the recoupment and requesting to compromise it. You can pursue both options at the same time!
3. Act quickly.
If you receive a recoupment notice from FEMA, you must take immediate action in order to preserve your rights and avoid penalties.
The following important deadlines apply to your recoupment based on the date listed on your first recoupment notice:
- 30 days: Interest begins to accrue on your recoupment unless you pay the recoupment amount in full. The current interest rate applicable to FEMA recoupments is 1% per year. Appealing, or requesting a compromise of the recoupment does not stop interest from accruing.
- 60 days: Deadline to appeal your recoupment. If you wish to appeal after this deadline, you must explain why you missed the deadline.
- 90 days: Deadline to request a compromise of your recoupment. If you fail to request a compromise, FEMA may charge an additional penalty of 6% per year.
- 120 days: FEMA may refer your recoupment to the U.S. Department of the Treasury for collections.
Antony Gemmell is a staff attorney for the New York Legal Assistance Group’s Storm Response Unit. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.