Democrats and Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation that would let people keep $24 million in overpayments from the federal government for Hurricane Sandy relief — even though those payments were made in error.
Hurricane Sandy hit Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island in 2012, and led the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay out $1.4 billion to those states. According to FEMA, about 2 percent of those payments were made improperly, and FEMA has been seeking to recoup the money.
Some of the Hurricane Sandy relief that the federal government paid to people hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 should not have been paid. Some say people should be allowed to keep it. (New Jersey Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)
"Unfortunately, whether through fraud, human or accounting errors, or other reasons, assistance sometimes goes to individuals who are not eligible," a spokesperson for FEMA told TheBlaze. "Federal law requires FEMA and other federal agencies to recover improper payments."
But this week, several members of the House and Senate from the affected states proposed a bill saying anyone who received these payments should be able to keep the money. Rep. Franke Pallone (D-N.J.) said many people quickly spend the money that they shouldn't have received in the first place, and that the federal government shouldn't seek repayment.
"Homeowners still struggling to rebuild from the devastation of Sandy should not be forced to repay grants that were awarded because of honest mistakes," Pallone said January. "While I understand the importance of reducing waste, fraud, and abuse in the system, the efforts to do so should not be made on the back end of this process in a way that punishes disaster victims with an unaffordable bill."
Today, I intro'd bill to ensure #Sandy victims still recovering aren't forced to repay grants awarded due to gov't error or honest mistakes— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) February 5, 2015
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored the Senate version of the bill, and said disaster victims "should never have to pay for someone else’s mistake."
"These families have suffered enough, are barely holding on financially — emotionally — and can't afford to pay back money they thought all along was rightfully theirs to use towards their recovery," he said.
While most of the bills' sponsors are Democrats, Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and Frank LiBiondo (R-N.J.) are sponsors of the House bill, and Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are sponsors of the Senate bill.
FEMA told TheBlaze that it's committed to being a "responsible steward" of taxpayer funds, and has several safeguards in place designed to stop improper payments.
In the case of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA has been working with people to make it easier for them to pay back any money that shouldn't have been paid. That includes paying it back, filing an appeal, or seeking a compromise based on their inability to pay.