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Public Statements

National Commission on Children and Disasters Reauthorization Act of 2010

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 5266, the ``National Commission on Children and Disasters Reauthorization Act of 2010'', which extends the authorization for the Commission on Children and Disasters for an additional two years. I thank the gentlewoman from Florida (Ms. Brown) for introducing this bill and the attention she has brought to the issue of the needs of children in disasters.

In 2007, Congress enacted the Kids in Disasters Well-being, Safety, and Health Act of 2007 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-161). This legislation established a 10-member Commission to examine the needs of children in response to and recovery from disasters and emergencies. The bill required the Commission to submit a final report to Congress with its findings two years after the date of the first meeting of the Commission, and sunset the authorization for the Commission 180 days after the submission of the final report.

Under current law, the report of the Commission is due in October 2010. H.R. 5266 extends the date for the final report to December 31, 2012, and requires annual interim reports from the Commission in the intervening years.

The Commission was created as a result of lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that affected thousands of children. As the Commission's May 2010 Progress Report reminds us, more recent disasters--such as last year's tsunami in American Samoa, this year's devastating earthquake in Haiti, and the recent H1N1 outbreak--disproportionately affected children compared to adults. However, serious impacts on children can occur in a disaster of any magnitude. Last month, tornadoes spread across my home state of Minnesota. The hardest hit area was Wadena, in my district, where preliminary damage assessments indicated that the community bore 90 percent of the damage to infrastructure and emergency response costs.

Shortly after the storm, I was in Wadena and saw the damage first-hand. One of the worst hit facilities was the Wadena Deer Creek High School, which was damaged beyond repair. Following a disaster, it is essential to reopen schools as quickly as possible in order to restore a sense of normalcy and stability for children and families. Children need to resume their education and reconnect with their friends, and with schools open, parents can get back to work. We are fortunate in Wadena that while the high school is being restored, the district will be able to use a recently closed parochial school and a local community and technical college campus.

We are also fortunate, as the Commission's May 2010 Progress Report points out, that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made good progress in implementing the recommendations of the Commission, including the appointment of a Children's Working Group that reports directly to the Administrator. Unfortunately, other Federal agencies have been slow to implement the Commission's recommendations and, as a result, the work of the Commission remains incomplete.

In October 2009, the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management held a hearing on the then-newly issued interim report of the Commission. Based on the testimony at this hearing and the Commission's findings, I included language in H.R. 3377, the ``Disaster Response, Recovery and Mitigation Act of 2009'', to require the Administrator of FEMA to take into account the recommendations of the Commission when drafting or updating agency plans, strategies, regulations, and policies. It is important for the Commission to be extended so it can advise Congress and the President on how FEMA is meeting this requirement.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 5266.

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