A bill to cut red tape and reduce the costs of disaster recovery under Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs, which will be critical to recovery from Hurricane Sandy, is stalled in the United States Senate.
"It's unfortunate that legislation which would cut unnecessary red tape for disaster victims has been sitting idle in the U.S. Senate since September," said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, whichconducts oversight of FEMA.
"Coming from a state that has had to deal with frequent hurricane disasters, we've learned firsthand that FEMA's processing of claims is often dysfunctional," said the Florida Republican. "We've also learned from previous disasters that when dealing with FEMA during the recovery phase, people would be wise to get the name and contact info for the FEMA employees they deal with. During this often frustrating process, FEMA personnel can appear on the scene to deal with claims, but then disappear, leaving other FEMA personnel to take over. Confusion then reigns as to what assistance has been committed to by the agency. We still have cases in Florida, and cases related to Katrina and other disasters where FEMA still has failed to reach resolution on claims.
"This bureaucratic process needs to be reformed," Mica said.
On September 19th, the House of Representatives unanimously approved theFEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012 (H.R. 2903), a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, which streamlines FEMA programs to help communities recover from disasters. As communities impacted by Sandy continue to assess the damages and begin the recovery process, the costs will be considerable, and red tape and delays will only add to the costs and frustrations of rebuilding. The bill continues to sit in the Senate.
"We are extremely grateful to the rescue crews and emergency first responders who are working day and night to deal with the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy," saidDenham. "A good response to a disaster is critical to saving lives and minimizing damage, and recovering from such devastation is critical to rebuilding local economies and helping people put their lives back together. I introduced the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012 to help 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."
Micacontinued to discuss the bureaucratic problems with FEMA's disaster assistance programs: "Decades of FEMA regulations can hold up reconstruction for years. For example, just this year, New Orleans finally started rebuilding Charity Hospital, destroyed in the 2005 hurricane. It took seven years and special legislation just to get a shovel in the ground. Without legislative reforms, the disaster recovery process for Sandy could be similarly plagued by unnecessary, costly delays. The people of New York, New Jersey and other states impacted by Sandy cannot wait for years as their communities struggle to rebuild."
In H.R. 2903, for example, Mica and Denham provide FEMA with broad authority, on a pilot basis, to waive regulatory hurdles that add years of delay and millions of dollars to rebuilding public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. The bill shortens FEMA's appeals process so projects can move forward more quickly instead of being locked in dispute for years. More immediately the legislation reinstates proven authorities to remove storm debris faster and at lower cost than the current process.
As a result of this week's hurricane, Major Disasters have been declared for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Emergency Declarations have been issued for New Hampshire, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Maryland. On-the-ground response efforts continue to focus on restoring power and transportation, water removal, and addressing fuel and housing needs.