Editor's note: This is an excerpt of a Nov. 27 editorial published in the St. Joseph News-Press.
As a child, you may recall the pleasant surprise of putting a coin in a vending machine, pulling the lever and getting not one but two candy bars.
Was your response to seek out the manager and report the error? Life is tough and won’t throw extra candy at you every day. Even at a young age, you intuitively knew that when you enjoyed the sugar rush. Bedsides, it’s not like you tried to shake it loose. The purchase was made in good faith.
Imagine the surprise of the person in Holt County who found 12,000 candy bars tumbling out of the vending machine known as the federal government. This resident of Craig filed for federal disaster assistance after the flood of 2019. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved $12,000 to help rebuild and recover.
The only trouble is that FEMA made a mistake. So even though this flood victim applied in good faith, the government wanted its money back.
In this era of the coronavirus, it’s easy to forget the devastation from 2019 flooding all along the Missouri River, with Holt and Atchison counties suffering a particularly heavy blow. Residents in these parts didn’t just experience the loss of property and livelihoods. They were forced to navigate a sometimes byzantine bureaucratic process with both private insurers and government disaster agencies.
Some particularly resented FEMA’s decision to assign a disaster declaration for a period beginning on April 29, a date that seemed arbitrary to those who started heading for dry land in March of that year.
This resident of Craig went through the application process, figured things out and got approved for funding after sustaining real damage. To have to think about returning the money, after the cleanup process begins, strikes many as both unfair and potentially damaging from a financial standpoint.
U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, is one of those people. He sponsored the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, which seeks to prevent FEMA from seeking the return of disaster assistance if the application was made in good faith, with no attempt to defraud the government. Otherwise, he said, the disaster victim is forced to fend off both the federal government and private debt collectors.
“People should not be revictimized because they relied on FEMA’s determination,” Graves said.
We’ve often heard the saying “there ought to be a law” when we hear about something outrageous. In this case, there really ought to be one.
Distributed by The Associated Press.