In December 2011, the FEMA Disaster Assistance Recoupment Fairness Act of 2011 was enacted, giving FEMA the legal authority to waive certain debts for disaster survivors who received improper payments as a result of disasters that occurred between August 28, 2005 through December 31, 2010. FEMA has put in place a process to implement this new law, to offer a fair resolution to survivors who received improper payments through no fault of their own and who may be unable to repay their debt due to their financial circumstances. There are steps survivors will need to take before we can decide if your debt can be waived.
Who is eligible for a waiver?
By law, the following requirements must be met to be eligible for a full waiver:
- An improper payment was received from disasters declared between August 28, 2005 and December 31, 2010;
- The improper payment did not involve fraud, presentation of false claim, or misrepresentation;
- The improper payment was the result of an error on the part of FEMA;
- The improper payment was not a result of fault on the part of the survivor;
- Collection of the debt would be “against equity and good conscience” which means that it would be unfair under the circumstances of your case to collect the debt ; and
- The disaster survivor’s household adjusted gross income for the last taxable year is less than $90,000. A household with an income of more than $90,000 whose case meets the other qualifying criteria could be eligible for a partial waiver.
What do you need to do?
You will have 60 days to respond to the Waiver Notice you receive in the mail and send FEMA a letter requesting a waiver. Your letter should explain why it would be unfair for FEMA to collect the debt. If you have signed up for E-Correspondence, you will receive an email stating that you have new correspondence in the system. You will then have to log into the system to see the Notice of Waiver. Your typed or written request should provide information that explains one or more of the following:
- Collecting the debt would cause you serious financial hardship: Your request should tell FEMA about your financial situation and why you cannot afford to repay the money. Your letter should also provide details about any other circumstances that create a hardship for you.
- You have spent the money you received from FEMA for disaster-related needs and you have no ability to reclaim and return the funds to FEMA: Your request should tell FEMA how you spent the money and why you believe it was disaster-related. If you have receipts for the disaster-related expenses, provide them to FEMA.
- Other personal circumstances exist that would make collection burdensome or grossly unfair: This request may include information about your age, health, employment status, family or childcare obligations, any disability, or any other circumstances you believe FEMA should know about to inform its decision about why it would be unfair to collect this debt.
You must also fill out the Adjusted Gross Income Form, providing a certification to FEMA of your “adjusted gross income” from your most recent Federal tax return (2010 or 2011).
You must send FEMA a request for a waiver within 60 days of the date on the Waiver Notice. Please remember to include all relevant information and mail your request to:
FEMA Individuals and Households Program
National Processing Service Center
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055
Or Fax it to: 1-800-827-8112
What if you have questions about the Waiver Notice?
If you have questions, you should immediately contact FEMA's Recoupment Helpline at 1-800-816-1122 between 9:00 AM and 8:00 PM EST, Monday through Friday. 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.
Also, FEMA's Management Directive on debt waiver is available here.