U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., chair of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, today praised the Senate passage of the Sandy Supplemental Appropriations bill. Sen. Landrieu has been a strong proponent of this legislation, not only for the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund - to prevent it from going into immediate needs financing, which stops recovery projects from past disasters and mitigation projects throughout the country - but also for other agencies that play a critical role in disaster recovery. As we move from the response phase of the disaster to the long-term recovery phase, it is critical that HUD, DOT, USDA, SBA disaster loans and the Corps of Engineers, which have either dwindling or entirely depleted disaster funds, receive supplemental appropriations. These funds will be extremely beneficial for both Sandy-impacted areas, as well as Louisiana and other states affected by disasters in 2012. In addition, without the authorities contained in this bill, the National Flood Insurance Fund is expected to be exhausted the week of January 7, suspending claims payments for as many as 127,000 Sandy survivors.
"Like we have for decades after other major disasters, today the U.S. Senate sent a strong message to the people of the Northeast that we will give them the support they need to recover from Sandy. It has been nearly nine weeks since Hurricane Sandy struck and I urge the House take up and pass this bill before the end of this Congress. Otherwise we will need to begin again next year and delay recovery in the Northeast," Sen. Landrieu said. "This bill is necessary for a strong, robust and smart recovery. It provides $60.4 billion, including $11.5 billion for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund which will fund Sandy recovery, as well as the continued recovery from Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Isaac, Gustav and Ike along with other disasters around the country."
Sen. Landrieu has been pushing to ensure that the supplemental bill not only provides funding for recovery, but also for mitigation efforts to help prevent similar damage in the future.
"Our flood protection infrastructure has been woefully underfunded for years, leaving areas of our country vulnerable and costing our taxpayers exorbitant sums to clean up the mess and fix the damage. By making the necessary mitigation investments now, we will help prevent damage to homes and communities in the first place, saving heartache as well as taxpayer money," Sen. Landrieu said.
The bill also includes critical reforms to federal disaster policy based on lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Sen. Landrieu has been pushing for these reforms to improve the speed, efficiency and flexibility of recovery after Sandy and other future disasters, and wrote to the President urging him to support them.
"Many of our current laws need to be reformed to better meet the needs of disaster survivors and communities," Sen. Landrieu said. "Many disaster survivors are faced with needless bureaucratic hurdles at a time when they need help the most. Based on the painful lessons we learned after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, today's legislation includes necessary tools to make sure we do not repeat history and ensure that recovery from future disasters is faster, more efficient and less costly."
The specific reforms included in the bill:
Re-authorize two expired pilot programs from the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act that allow FEMA to repair rental units as a cost-effective temporary housing alternative to trailers and mobile homes and to utilize expedited debris removal procedures. Both programs were determined by FEMA to speed recovery and save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Allow a state to draw down a portion of its hazard mitigation funding from FEMA, in order to leverage mitigation opportunities earlier in the reconstruction process. Under the current program, it typically takes 18 to 36 months for funding to become available. By then, most reconstruction is already complete or underway, and numerous mitigation opportunities have been lost.
Provide grants on the basis of reliable fixed estimates for expedited removal of storm-related debris and reconstruction of damaged facilities and infrastructure. This approach will be faster, cheaper, and more effective for everyone involved.
Codify temporary legislative measures that were enacted to facilitate a smarter recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including third-party arbitration of disputes over project eligibility and cost, eliminating the penalty on alternate projects that stifles smarter rebuilding, and authority to consolidate facilities into a single project so school districts, police, fire, and public works departments can strategically plan reconstruction without having to rebuild everything exactly as it was before.
Allow families to use FEMA Individual Assistance funds for disaster-related child care expenses so parents can get back to work and rebuild their home or business sooner.
Reduce bureaucratic waste by eliminating the current practice of conducting duplicative agency reviews for the same project and the same set of laws governing environmental, historic preservation, and benefit-cost requirements.
Help to protect the environment by allowing locals to keep proceeds from recycled debris and thereby incentivizing that practice.
Eliminate a perverse incentive in the law to use high-priced contract labor for emergency work instead of local government employees, such as firefighters and police officers, which will save the federal government millions of dollars.
Correct a gap in current law that prohibits tribal governments from requesting federal assistance after a disaster in the same way that states are authorized to do.
Require an assessment of Hurricane Sandy's impact on local government budgets in the affected area, including revenue losses and increased operating costs, and a determination of whether private loans and current federal programs are sufficient to address those needs.