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Bill protecting wildfire victims' disaster compensation advances

USDA ARS WFP-ARS-capitol.jpg
The U.S. Capitol is seen from the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
The bipartisan legislation would let victims keep FEMA funds sent to them by mistake.

A bipartisan bill to prevent the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from seeking reimbursement for certain wildfire relief funds it issued has been sent to the floor of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., teamed with a half-dozen other lawmakers to sponsor H.R. 539, which would prevent FEMA from taking back disaster assistance funds that it mistakenly awarded to victims who applied for assistance in good faith and used the money to help rebuild their lives.

The legislation -- called the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act -- was approved by the lower chamber's Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by voice vote.

The bill "will ensure disaster victims trying to recover and rebuild their lives, homes, and businesses aren’t revictimized because of a federal agency’s error,” said Graves, the committee's ranking member.

The proposal requires FEMA to waive the debt of disaster relief recipients in cases where the agency later determined it mistakenly granted assistance, but no fraud was committed. In California, the measure would prevent FEMA from raiding Pacific Gas and Electric’s $13.5 billion fund that was originally set aside for wildfire victims, legislators said.

Under current law, FEMA can come back weeks, months, or even years later to seek repayment of funds it awarded victims, even when the agency is at fault for making the error and the funds were appropriately used in the wake of a disaster. 

The bill also ensures that FEMA reports to Congress on its efforts to minimize similar errors in the future.

Graves' cosponsors were California Democratic Reps. John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Jared Huffman and Salud Carbajal; Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif.; and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, D-Puerto Rico.

TAGS: Disaster
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