Committee Leaders Call for Senate Action on FEMA Reform Bill to Help Speed Sandy Recovery

Dec 5, 2012

Washington, DC – Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee today called on the U.S. Senate to pass a bill to reform Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs to help prevent Hurricane Sandy recovery progress from bogging down in bureaucratic red tape.

The Committee held a hearing today to review the response to and newly begun recovery from Hurricane Sandy, as well as to examine problems with recoveries from previous disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.  The Committee received testimony from the FEMA Administrator and other federal officials.  Emergency preparedness officials from Louisiana, Mississippi and Galveston, Texas also highlighted lessons they have learned and problems they have experienced that could impact the Northeast’s recovery if steps are not taken to improve federal programs.  Click here for written statements of the witnesses and additional background information.

In his opening statement, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) discussed the need for bipartisan FEMA reform legislation, which informed by the Committee’s thorough review of disasters in various states, including Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, and Iowa. 

“Before Hurricane Sandy, the House passed the Committee’s bill – H.R. 2903 the FEMA Reauthorization Act – to address problems realized during previous disaster recovery efforts,” Mica said.  “Unfortunately, that bill is languishing in the Senate, and our hope is that the bill can move through that body before the end of the Congress. 

“Ten years from now we don’t want to be having hearings asking FEMA why it’s taking so long to rebuild from Hurricane Sandy.  We need to make certain folks in the Northeast and future disaster victims will benefit from the best response and recovery mechanisms, and that FEMA has the best tools to do its job,” Mica continued. 

Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA) said, “A rapid response to a disaster is critical to saving lives and minimizing damage.  The FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012 will expedite these efforts and streamline the disaster recovery programs to ensure our states and local communities can rebuild faster and in a more cost-effective way.”

Mica highlighted key provisions of the FEMA reform bill: “The House bill makes permanent a Public Assistance Pilot Program, which is based on cost estimates and not actual damages.  This can help cut red tape, reduce burdensome paperwork, and speed up recovery.  The bill also shortens the FEMA appeals process, makes temporary housing more accessible, and allows state administration of hazard mitigation programs.  If passed by the Senate, this bill would reform the rebuilding process, and cut through red-tape and the bureaucratic nightmare that we have seen other states have to deal with.”

Last week, Chairman Mica led a Congressional delegation to New York to examine the damage to some of the impacted communities and to talk with local leaders.  “I admire the incredible people of the Northeast region who have been working there on the ground – first responders, officials, private individuals – helping each other to rebuild,” he said.  “Surprisingly, Sandy isn’t the only disaster they are recovering from.  While I was there, Mayor Bloomberg told me that New York has been reimbursed for only one-third of their project costs related to Hurricane Irene over a year ago, and the Staten Island Borough President said they have received only $7 million out of $25 million promised by FEMA.

“There is also reportedly $1.7 billion in unresolved FEMA claims related to Hurricane Katrina.  If these problems with the bureaucracy exist for previous disasters, be prepared for more during the Sandy recovery.  We need to learn from previous problems and make certain the recovery process moves ahead more quickly, efficiently and responsibly,” Mica concluded.

Witnesses at today’s hearing, including Mark Riley, representing the State of Louisiana’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, outlined their experiences with FEMA programs and the need to expedite programs.

“To say the current process for delivering the FEMA PA program delays catastrophic recovery is an understatement,” Riley said in written testimony.  “The fact is, there is no recovery until the issues in Federal assistance delivery are resolved and as we will demonstrate, under the current process it will take years to do it.

“The challenges of timely identifying and agreeing on eligible work and getting financing lined up quickly are not unique to Louisiana,” he added.  “What we have experienced, others will experience anywhere in the Nation where a catastrophic event occurs.  New York, New Jersey and other impacted states will experience the same challenges as they recover from Hurricane Sandy.”

An official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development also testified, in light of the President’s announcement last month that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan would be in charge of coordinating the rebuilding and recovery.  Because of its existing programs and authorities, FEMA is traditionally the lead federal agency in recovery efforts.  The President’s announcement included no details, and subsequent statements made by Secretary Donovan have raised questions as to who will be in charge during the recovery.