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Multi-State Disaster Relief Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 5825, the ``Multi-State Disaster Relief Act''. The gentleman from Indiana (Mr. HILL) identified this issue after floods struck last August in his district in Indiana, and neighboring counties in Kentucky. I thank Representative HILL for bringing this issue to the attention of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and working with the Committee on a practical solution.

The Stafford Act and our Nation's emergency management system are based on a multi-level system of response at the local, State, and Federal level, as necessary. Local citizens and communities have the primary responsibility for responding to incidents and disasters that strike their communities. When they need additional assistance, they seek that assistance from their State. When the disaster is beyond the capability of the State, the State seeks help from the Federal Government. As a result, the President must look at the impacts on the State in which the disaster took place in determining whether Federal assistance is warranted.

However, disasters don't always stay neatly within the lines we have drawn, and the impact of a particular event often crosses State lines. When disaster strikes, first responders, emergency managers, volunteers, and others respond, regardless of county or State lines. In my home State of Minnesota, there are neighboring jurisdictions separated by a river. In many places, that river is the State boundary, but in reality, it is one community that encompasses both sides of the river. In 1997, in the western part of Minnesota along the Red River, devastating floods struck both Grand Forks, North Dakota, and East Grand Forks, Minnesota.

In my own district, we have seen this happen as well. In 1992, a gas leak from a derailed railroad tank resulted in the evacuation of more than 50,000 people from the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota, and Superior, Wisconsin--communities separated by the St. Louis River. Hundreds of first responders provided assistance, including members of the National Guard and Army Reserve. While at least two dozen people from both States were hospitalized, we were fortunate that the cloud quickly dissipated and Federal assistance was not necessary.

It is only logical that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the President, in making a determination whether to declare a disaster and provide assistance to individuals and households, consider both immediate local impacts and the impacts in neighboring communities, even if they are in another State. When a disaster also affects a neighboring county across a State line, this legislation directs FEMA to consider this fact when the agency recommends to the President whether or not to declare a disaster.

The Committee understands that FEMA is currently working with State and local emergency managers on revamping the criteria the agency uses regarding whether to recommend that the President declare a major disaster or emergency in order to provide assistance to individuals and households. FEMA has been working on these changes for some time. This legislation is not intended to impede that process. This legislation merely puts a reasonable deadline on the process and requires that one common-sense criteria be incorporated.

This legislation is supported by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), which represents our Nation's county, local, and tribal emergency managers, who serve in the communities that would benefit most from this legislation.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 5825.

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