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Public Statements

Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. NORTON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I want to thank Mr. Shuster, Mr. Rahall, and my good friend Mr. Denham for their very important work to bring this matter to the floor so soon after the recess. I'm sure everyone appreciates it, and I certainly associate myself with the remarks of Mr. Denham. He and I worked on the very passages he quoted.

I, therefore, rise in support of H.R. 219, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. This bipartisan measure consists of reforms to expedite the recovery process for those communities that received disaster declarations for Hurricane Sandy as well as for future Presidentially declared disasters. I do believe this may be the first time that some of these reforms with any significant event have been tested because many of the provisions included in the bill are matters that we have long worked for and that were incorporated into similar legislation in past Congresses. Several of the provisions will streamline the rebuilding process to provide jobs in the region and to achieve full recovery. The measure is also supported by the International Association of Emergency Managers, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, the National League of Cities, and more.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Congress enacted two pilot programs: one for debris removal and another allowing FEMA to make limited repairs instead of lease payments to provide housing when cheaper than using temporary trailers. Both pilot programs were successful and resulted in savings for the Federal Government. Local governments and emergency management professionals have discussed the need to make the debris removal program permanent in order to expedite debris recovery. The housing program will be especially useful in large urban areas, such as in New York City, where temporary trailers simply are not an option. This bill would codify both expired pilot programs, providing additional tools for FEMA to help communities recover.

This measure would also authorize FEMA to use fixed grants based on cost estimates at the request of the local community--another favorite we have been pressing for years. Although Congress authorized FEMA to use cost estimating 12 years ago, which is the way the insurance industry does it, for example, FEMA has not done so. The new authorization includes incentives for the local communities to use cost estimating by allowing them to rebuild according to today's needs and by eliminating long delays in the recovery process caused by cost disputes. Moreover, this provision explicitly authorizes FEMA and the applicant to mutually agree on a professionally licensed expert to prepare a cost estimate to be relied upon by FEMA instead of using an adversarial process in which both hire their own cost estimators, paid for by the Federal Government, and then get into a dispute as to which one is the best to use. This process alone will eliminate one of the most inefficient uses of Federal funds I have ever heard of in which FEMA pays for the State's experts to submit competing estimates of the costs of repair to the government's experts. No more of that. No more waste from that.

Finally, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held an oversight hearing last month on the preparedness, response to, and recovery from Hurricane Sandy. At that hearing, I questioned FEMA Administrator Fugate about the need to expedite the dispute resolution process. I am pleased to state that this bill includes a 3-year dispute resolution pilot program for FEMA to draft procedures in order to expedite project closure and to decrease recovery costs caused by project delays.

Madam Speaker, I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. NORTON. First, let me say I appreciate the gentleman's remarks and comparing what we are going through here to what we all went through. He and I were both on the committee after Hurricane Katrina. I can tell you, we never expected to see anything like it, particularly in this part of the country. I certainly agree that this is the time to finally get these reforms done. This is the time to get it done, when we've got a huge Katrina-like event and we've got everybody's attention and we're going to save millions upon millions of dollars. I thank the gentleman.

I'm pleased to yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Holt).

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Ms. NORTON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I just want to say that I'm pleased to see that the gentleman from Mississippi has done what we have always done when any part of our country faced a disaster, we all closed in, and we really closed in like nothing you've ever seen with Mississippi and Louisiana, and nobody from the east coast rose to have any problem with moving in.

The reforms this bill now contains, the reforms of Chairman DENHAM and me, and before Chairman DENHAM came to the Congress, reforms that had been in our bill for some time; and it is true that these have not come out, and we have got a lever now to get them out. And when we get them out, they're going to help Mississippi and Louisiana, and they have more of this than the east coast has ever had. And it's going to help all the unforeseen places that now we are seeing experience precisely what only certain parts of the country before had had to endure.

I'm pleased to yield 3 minutes to the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson Lee).

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Ms. NORTON. I want to agree with the chairman of the subcommittee about cost estimates and how it saves money and how it is one of the many lessons learned that I think will be acted out in this bill.

Madam Speaker, this bill is a downpayment. We all understand this. We understand that the devastation done in four States, I believe it is, was of a magnitude of what we experienced for the first time at the gulf coast.

We are going to come around, and we're going to do what we're supposed to do at times like this. But when we have a major event like this, it does not pay to simply go along doing things the way we have always done them.

This is when things get corrected. This bill is a good step toward correcting what our committee and our subcommittee have tried to do for years now. I appreciate all the effort of my friends and colleagues on the other side and, of course, Mr. Rahall and our friends who have also, in a bipartisan fashion, pushed for these changes and now have an opportunity to see how they work in a laboratory that is a very big one indeed, one far larger than we expected, but one from which we will also learn what is yet still to be learned about these major disasters.

Madam Speaker, I have no more speakers, and I am pleased to yield back the remainder of my time.

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