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MacArthur moves to limit FEMA recovery of grants made in error

 In October 2015,  a couple works on their home that has been raised since being damaged, with about 27 inches of water in their house during Superstorm Sandy, in Long Beach Township, N.J.  (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

In October 2015, a couple works on their home that has been raised since being damaged, with about 27 inches of water in their house during Superstorm Sandy, in Long Beach Township, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP Photo)

A New Jersey congressman wants to place a three-year limit on allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to force homeowners to repay disaster recovery money.

The bill he has sponsored would prevent FEMA from trying to recoup grant money indefinitely after it was awarded, said U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur.

“What brought it to my attention initially was a single mom of a disabled child who had gotten a $40,000 grant from FEMA,” MacArthur said. “About two years later, FEMA came back and said they make a mistake, and they were demanding the money back. She had used the money to repair her home.”

Amanda Deveca-Rinear, who leads the New Jersey Organizing Project that supports Superstorm Sandy victims, said the legislation could prevent homeowners from suffering financial ruin.

“The FEMA clawbacks can range from $3,000 or $4,000 to much higher than that, $20,000 or $30,000 or $40,000,” she said. The bill will prevent the agency from “yanking their financial stability out from under them.”

MacArthur said he wanted to put a time limit on FEMA for demanding repayment rather than banning the practice altogether.

“I might have been inclined to eliminate it completely —,except there are times when there’s enough question as to whether a payment should have been made,” the South Jersey Republican said. “There can be cases where maybe somebody didn’t share all of the information. I want to protect the U.S. taxpayer as well.”

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