Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure leaders today introduced bipartisan legislation to speed up and streamline federal disaster recovery programs. The measures specifically targets improvements to help strengthen the Hurricane Sandy recovery process and reduce costs as communities rebound from the recent superstorm and other future disasters.
The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 219) was introduced in the House today by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), and is cosponsored by Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA); Committee Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-WV); and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). The bill is scheduled to be considered by the House under suspension of the rules later today. [update 7:00 PM January 14, 2013: the House approved the bill by a vote of 403 to 0.)
H.R. 219 addresses inefficiencies in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs that slow down and increase costs of recovery. Such problems continue to delay ongoing recoveries from previous disasters, including Hurricane Katrina. Without Congressional action to improve FEMA programs, the same potential for significant delays and higher costs exists for the recoveries from Sandy and other future disasters. The bill will save time and money by streamlining FEMA procedures and programs, and increasing flexibility to allow for quicker recoveries in a manner that will best support communities that need assistance.
"This bipartisan legislation will help communities impacted by this storm put their lives back together," said Denham. "By providing FEMA with the tools necessary to streamline recovery efforts, we will save hundreds of millions of dollars and ensure our states and communities can rebuild faster and with greater protection from future events."
"I thank Congressman Denham, who continues to be a leader on emergency management issues, and my colleagues for moving forward together with this targeted bipartisan legislation to improve recovery programs and help speed up and streamline Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts," said Shuster."This bill will reduce costs and get communities back on their feet faster by building upon reforms that started when I served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Emergency Management eight years ago.According to FEMA Administrator Fugate, the agency needs these reforms in place by March 1st, and they can potentially help save hundreds of millions of dollars in the Sandy recovery.Congress must give FEMA the tools it needs to help the communities impacted by this storm rebuild faster and save money."
"Timely federal assistance is critical in enabling individuals to rebuild their lives when unforeseen disasters strike and this bipartisan legislation will expedite recovery for victims of Hurricane Sandy as well as communities that experience future catastrophes," said Rahall. "It ensures that our disaster assistance programs are in fact reaching those they are designed to help and that needed aid is not locked behind inflexible bureaucratic guidelines. Separately, this bill also recognizes Indian tribes as the sovereign governments that they are by providing all tribes with the long overdue right to request a disaster declaration when emergencies arise and I am pleased to join my Committee colleagues in introducing our legislation today."
The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act includes the following provisions:
Streamlines Environmental Review Procedures
Expedites hazard mitigation projects by streamlining the environmental review and requires the President to establish an expedited review for environmental and historic requirements for rebuilding damaged infrastructure.
Allows Greater Flexibility to Reduce Rebuilding Time and Lower Costs
Gives local governments greater flexibility to consolidate or rebuild facilities by allowing FEMA to issue fixed price grants on the basis of damaged estimates instead of a traditional reimbursement process -- the current FEMA process is mired in regulations that delay rebuilding for years and drive up project costs by 25 percent or more.
Reduces Debris Removal Costs
Cuts debris removal costs dramatically by utilizing reforms from a successful 2006 Debris Removal Pilot Program that enable operations to be conducted in a more cost-effective manner and incentivize the completion of projects on-time and under budget.
Provides Flexibility for Less Expensive Housing Options
Allows FEMA to make limited repairs, instead of lease payments, for the purpose of providing housing when less expensive than traditional FEMA trailers -- an expired 2006 pilot program documented dramatic savings over FEMA's traditional trailer program.
Improves Dispute Resolutions to Avoid Cost Overruns
Establishes a limited dispute resolution pilot to resolve disputes over assistance to drive projects to closure and avoid cost overruns.
Reforms Individual Assistance Factors
Requires FEMA to review and update factors for individual assistance disaster declarations to make them less subjective.
Ensures Tribal Communities Receive Equitable Treatment
Provides for disaster declarations for tribal communities.
Recommendations for Reducing Costs of Future Disasters
Directs FEMA to submit recommendations to Congress for the development of national strategy to reduce future costs, loss of life, and injuries associated with extreme disaster events.