By PETER URBAN
Stephens Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., announced today that he is blocking action on any Treasury Department nominations until action is taken to resolve a dispute FEMA has with an elderly Stone County couple.
"I am being open and notorious about this," Pryor told reporters. "I went to the floor to get the Department of Treasury, the White House and FEMA’s attention that I am serious about getting this resolved."
Since April, Pryor has tried to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to stop trying to recoup $27,000 it gave Gary and Dorothy Guglielmana in 2008 to repair their flood-damaged home. This March, FEMA asked for the money back saying they did not qualify for the funds.
FEMA recently turned to the Treasury Department to collect the debt, which through penalties and interest has now grown to $37,000, Pryor said.
Placing the "hold" on the nominations, Pryor said, would have the practical effect of forcing the Treasury Department to meet with him about the Arkansas case.
"Enough is enough," he said.
On the Senate floor, Pryor, described the problem facing the Guglielmana family, who live on Social Security and do not have the savings to repay the government.
After the flood, FEMA came to their home and told them they were entitled to the disaster recovery money. They helped them fill out the paperwork. And, assured them that they were qualified, Pryor explained. The Guglielmanas used the FEMA money to repair their home, turning aside assistance that was offered from neighbors and local charities. Now, FEMA wants the funds returned because of their error.
"FEMA has done them harm. Our government has done them harm, put them at a disadvantage. These people clearly relied on the government, relied on FEMA to their detriment, and they’re paying the price," Pryor said. American citizens should not be treated this way, especially those that are playing by the rules."
Pryor has proposed a resolution that is included in a $41 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that has yet to clear the Senate. The measure would allow FEMA to forgive debts in cases where FEMA erred in distributing disaster relief.
Four Treasury Department nominations are now before the Senate: Alastair M. Fitzpayne, of Maryland, to be a Deputy Under Secretary; Matthew S. Rutherford, of Illinois, to be an Assistant Secretary; Mary John Miller, of Maryland, to be an Under Secretary; and Timothy Charles Scheve, of Pennsylvania, to be a member of the Internal Revenue Service Oversight Board.