The chair of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., today praised Senate passage of disaster recovery reforms and $50.5 billion in aid for communities hit by disasters in 2012, particularly the Northeast. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 62 - 36 and now heads to the President for his signature.
In addition to today's legislation that included $50.5 billion in aid, the House and Senate earlier this month passed $9.7 billion to fund the National Flood Insurance Program. With this funding, FEMA will not go to immediate needs funding, which stops recovery projects from past disasters and mitigation projects throughout the country. The funding will also support other agencies, such as HUD, DOT, USDA, SBA and the Army Corps of Engineers, that are charged with helping communities in the recovery and rebuilding phases.
"Since Hurricane Sandy struck, I've worked with my colleagues to fashion robust funding and a smart recovery. This bill accomplishes both those goals. The taxpayers don't want to waste money on things that don't work, and survivors need it to work so they can quickly rebuild their homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and lives," Sen. Landrieu said.
Since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Sen. Landrieu and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., have worked to reform the Stafford Act, the federal law that governs disaster recovery and response policy. Many of the reforms included in today's legislation are the product of dozens of hearings Sen. Landrieu has held during her chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and the Subcommittee on Homeland Security Appropriations. The reforms were developed in consultation with state and local officials across the country, private and nonprofit organizations engaged in disaster relief, numerous federal agencies including FEMA and HUD, and stakeholders throughout the emergency management community.
FEMA has estimated these reforms will save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and reduce construction delays, protracted funding disputes, and bureaucratic waste.
Sen. Landrieu continued: "The American people want government to be smarter and more efficient. That's why these reforms to our nation's disaster recovery laws that Sen. Cochran and I developed during the last seven years are so important. The victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita learned the hard way that these laws are needlessly rigid and shortsighted. Having learned these lessons, the Stafford Act reforms that will soon become law will help ensure that the survivors of Hurricane Sandy and future disasters do not have to experience the same bureaucratic quagmire. I'm grateful for Sen. Cochran's partnership in passing these smart reforms. "
"The goal of this legislation is to remove bureaucratic obstacles that make disaster recovery more expensive and time consuming for everyone. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina have taught us valuable lessons, and it is my expectation that these reforms will improve response and recovery activities for Hurricane Sandy and future disasters," Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said. "I'm pleased the Congress has adopted these provisions, and I commend Senator Landrieu for her leadership and diligence in working toward their enactment."
Sen. Landrieu successfully stopped efforts to offset the disaster aid, which would have delayed getting assistance to impacted communities.
"People that have paid taxes their whole lives deserve a strong response from their government when disasters hit. We should not be arguing about offsets while the water is rising, people are gutting their homes and worshiping in tents on a beach," Sen. Landrieu added.
The bill also includes funding to mitigate against future disasters and help communities build stronger, smarter and more resilient than before.
Sen. Landrieu concluded: "I am pleased that the bill being presented to the President contains significant funds for FEMA, HUD, DOT, USDA and the Corps of Engineers to mitigate future losses of life and property. It makes no sense to require communities to build back the exact same housing and facilities that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. We must build smarter by elevating or moving homes and businesses, and making public utilities and infrastructure more resilient to future storms. These investments represent a significant enhancement in how the federal government helps state and local governments and the private sector rebuild."
Sen. Landrieu has convened two separate hearings to examine ongoing recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy. On Dec. 5, as chair of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, she held a hearing on the tools and resources that impacted communities and states will need to rebuild. On Dec. 13, Sen. Landrieu held another hearing in her role as chair of the Small Business Committee on federal assistance to small businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy.
The reform package included in the bill:
Reauthorizes 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.
Hazard Mitigation: Allows 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.
Speeds up funding for debris removal and infrastructure repair
Provides 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.
The package also codifies 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.
Allows 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.
Reduces bureaucratic waste by eliminating duplicative agency reviews for the same project and the same set of laws governing environmental, historic preservation, and benefit-cost requirements.