In my February blog, I said we would send out Notice of Waiver letters to disaster survivors who may be eligible for a waiver, and we were committed to implementing the law to the fullest extent and to offer the fairest resolution possible for those who received improper payments at no fault of their own. As of March 30, we mailed more than 87,000 Notices to disaster survivors who may be eligible for a waiver.
At this time, we are conducting thorough reviews of the debt waiver requests we have received, and we are approving requests that clearly meet the requirements for the waiver (more about this below). Starting this week, we will begin to notify applicants whose reviews have been completed and are approved for a waiver.
Important Note: For disaster survivors affected by the recoupment efforts who have not submitted debt waiver requests, you have 60 days from the date of the Notice of Waiver to submit a waiver request, and for a majority of disaster survivors who have received Notices, the deadline to submit your waiver request is between April 16 and 23. As an additional measure, FEMA will also be mailing reminder letters to those who have yet to request a waiver, urging them to do so.
When you respond to the Notice of Waiver letter, your written letter request must provide certain information that explains:
- Why collecting the debt would cause you serious financial hardship;
- What you 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.
Although in the past you may have already provided us with information to request an appeal, a payment plan or a compromise on your debt, the standards we must consider for this waiver are different, and it is important that you provide us with as much information as you can to support your request to waive your debt.
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 I mentioned above, in order to be eligible for a waiver, certain requirements need to be met, and those are:
- 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.
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, and 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.
Everyone at FEMA appreciates your patience as we all work through this process – thank you again.