A. What is FEMA Recoupment?
After a disaster happens, FEMA tries to give people help as soon as they can. They often do this before insurance companies have time to process claims. FEMA does this to help people begin to recover quickly. Later FEMA reviews cases to determine if people received the correct amount of FEMA help. Sometimes FEMA finds that people were overpaid FEMA benefits. One of the reasons FEMA may think a person was overpaid is if the person later received insurance money or some other assistance to cover the expenses that FEMA also gave assistance for. FEMA may also find that a mistake was made and the person was not eligible for the assistance they received. FEMA then finds that the person was overpaid FEMA benefits.
Recoupment occurs when FEMA takes action to collect on the overpayment. This happens when FEMA finds that a person was given benefits due to FEMA’s mistake. This process does not cover cases where FEMA believes the person lied or used fraud to collect benefits. The first step is that FEMA sends a Notice of Debt letter.
B. What is a Notice of Debt Letter?
If FEMA finds that you were overpaid disaster assistance, FEMA will send you a Notice of Debt letter. The letter will state that FEMA believes you were overpaid disaster assistance benefits, the amount you were overpaid, and the reason why FEMA thinks you were overpaid. FEMA will send the letter to the last known address they have for you. People will often have a temporary address after a disaster. They often use this address when they apply for benefits. Therefore, it is important to let FEMA know your current address.
C. What if I disagree with the letter?
If you receive a “Notice of Debt” letter and you do not agree with it, you can appeal the decision. The letter explains how to appeal. You can write an appeal letter explaining why it was not a mistake for you to receive the FEMA benefits.
Your appeal letter needs to have the following information:
- A written explanation of why you do not believe you owe the money.
- Copies of any documents or statements that show or explain why you do not owe this money.
- You must sign the letter in front of a notary or in place of a notary, you can write the following sentence: “I hereby declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.” Then sign the letter.
- You need to include a copy of a state-issued identification card (driver’s license, passport).
- You need to write your full name, last four digits of your Social Security Number, disaster number and FEMA application number on all pages of your letter and on all pages of any documents you send.
- You may request an oral hearing. The Notice of Debt letter explains what you need to show in order to get a hearing. FEMA usually makes their decision based on the written documents.
- You should address your appeal letter to: FEMA Individuals & Households Program.
You should mail your appeal letter to:FEMA Individuals & Households Program National Processing Service Center P.O. Box 10055 Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055
You need to postmark and mail your appeal letter within 60 days of the date on your Notice of Debt letter. You should make a copy of the appeal letter and keep it for your records. You should send the letter certified or return receipt so that you will have proof of when you sent it and that FEMA received it.
D. What are the grounds for an appeal?
FEMA will grant the appeal and find that you were not overpaid if the appeal letter and documents show that you were eligible for the FEMA benefits that you received. You need to show that FEMA had wrong or missing information when it made its overpayment decision. You can also try to show that FEMA’s overpayment decision did not follow the law or its own rules.
E. What is my deadline for filing an appeal?
You have sixty days from the date on the Notice of Debt letter to mail your appeal letter. The sixty days starts from the date on the notice, not the date you received the letter. You must act quickly to meet this deadline. If you miss the deadline, you can only file an appeal if FEMA finds that you had a good reason for filing late
F. What if I was overpaid benefits, but I cannot afford to pay FEMA back?
If you were overpaid FEMA benefits, you have to pay FEMA back. If you cannot afford to pay FEMA back, you can ask them to not collect from you. You will need to show FEMA that paying them back will cause you financial hardship. You will want to send FEMA a letter (at the above address) showing why you cannot afford to pay them back. FEMA will then send you forms to complete. The forms will ask for information about your income and monthly expenses, like rent or utilities. FEMA may then forgive your debt, forgive a part of your debt, or offer you an affordable repayment plan.
G. What if I need help with my appeal?
You can call the FEMA Recoupment Hotline, 1-800-816-1122. They are open from 9:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans.
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275.
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or
apply online at iowalegalaid.org
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website iowabar.org. A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.