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Public Statements

Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Speaker, I thank very much the gentlelady from the District of Columbia for her clarification; and I, frankly, thank you for having the wisdom in months and years back to have these corrections and these improvements in FEMA, and I know they welcome it.

I am a senior member of the Homeland Security Committee and served as the ranking member on Transportation Security, but know firsthand, as the committee that shares jurisdiction over FEMA, firsthand, in living color, the catastrophe and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina; both in my visits and almost living in New Orleans, as many of our Members did, and then in welcoming over a quarter of a million-plus of New Orleanians into Houston, Texas, being there inside the Astrodome, and seeing eons and eons and layers of beds of people who are Americans and who were Americans who, one could not call them broken, those survivors, if you will, from Hurricane Katrina were not broken. They were people who had worked and had homes and paid taxes.

And so today, Madam Speaker, those who are survivors of Hurricane Sandy are not broken. They are not the cornerstone of the fault of bureaucracy or misuse. They are, in fact, survivors. They are Americans who need our help.

And I'd like to add to this discussion, certainly. I join and want to comment on one or two of the changes here. In particular, the individual assistance factors, I think, will be very helpful to expedite the declaration process for individuals.

I'm very grateful that one of the changes they made, thank goodness, and this is what happened to our seniors, fixing their homes instead of putting them in FEMA trailers. What a celebration.

How many had to stay in FEMA trailers down in the gulf forever and ever and ever while they watched their homes deteriorate because a few simple repairs could not be made. That is a much-needed step.

But I join my colleague from New Jersey and say, how can people who are broken and who are in need come up with 35 percent? And I hope that this will be one that is reconsidered.

Let me quickly suggest that I am in support of the $5.4 billion for FEMA disaster relief. I'm in support for the $5.4 billion for the Department of Transportation. Anybody who's been on the east coast and seen the transportation corridor and the congestion and the synergism between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York realizes that this is crucial.

The $3.9 billion for community block grant, I am told that there are Hurricane Sandy islanders, people on Staten Island, people on Coney Island, who are living in New York downtown hotels. I'm sure in a better day they would enjoy living in high-rise, high-class hotels; but they are people that want to go back to their home, and I'm delighted that we'll have that.

And then I want to support the additional amendment that calls for, the gentleman from New Jersey, $33 billion unfettered dollars that will help additional resources.

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Ms. JACKSON LEE. I believe that we should have done this last week. But I know that my colleagues will be reading the Constitution tomorrow, so let me read from article I, section 8:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.

My God, my God, can we provide for the general welfare of those Hurricane Sandy survivors who are not victims but have lost loved ones and, in fact, are the second most-costly hurricane in America's history, Katrina, Sandy, and Hurricane Ike.

I speak from what I know. I beg of this Congress to vote for the New Jersey amendment for $33 billion and, as well, the others; and let us be able to look back on their needs and go back to the table to help them if they are in need. The Constitution asks us to do that.

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Madam Speaker, I rise today to support H.R. 219, ``the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013,'' this bill is designed to speed up disaster relief granted through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) it amends Title IV of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to Expedite hazard mitigation projects by streamlining the environmental review and requires the President to establish an expedited review for environmental and historic requirements for rebuilding damage infrastructure. Further, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act will give 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 entitlement guarantee to cover all cost increases over time.

Last month, the Administration requested $60.4 billion in federal aid to provide financial assistance to homeowners and businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy.

In the 112th Congress, on December 28, 2012, the Senate passed a $61 billion comprehensive aid package for the victims and communities by a vote of 62-32.

I am pleased that this body was able to pass H.R. 41, $9.7 billion bill which temporarily increased the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for carrying out the National Flood Insurance Program.

Now that the President has signed H.R. 41, victims of Superstorm Sandy are finally able to receive some much-needed relief from the federal government.

However, the relief that H.R. 41 granted was limited in scope and insufficient to address the entirety of the situation faced by residents of the affected areas. The House must finish the job. Again the measure before us today does not appropriate additional funds, but it does attempt to address the backlog. This bill would:

Cut 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.

Save money, as demonstrated by a 2006 pilot program, by authorizing FEMA to make limited repairs to existing housing structures when those repairs cost less than a lease payment for traditional FEMA trailers.

Adjudicate claim disputes quicker and avoid cost overruns, the bill establishes a limited dispute resolution pilot.

Require FEMA to review and update factors for individual assistance disaster declarations to make them less subjective. Provides for disaster declarations for tribal communities.

Direct 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.

Since this historic storm devastated the east coast in late October, the people impacted by the storm, particularly those in the Tri-State area of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, have been waiting patiently for the federal government to act as they continue to engage in efforts to rebuild their communities.

However, the time for patience has long since expired, and these Americans can no longer wait for Congress to act to provide comprehensive relief.

For families without a home, and for businesses without a storefront or customers, this situation has been an ongoing nightmare. These families and businesses have been waiting for Congress to join them in their struggle to pick up the pieces and put their communities back together.

The proposal before us is our opportunity to step up and help to restore these suffering communities; that is the role of the federal government.

Every state in this country is, at any given moment in time, at risk for experiencing a devastating and costly natural or manmade disaster. When state and local governments face overwhelming challenges that are too big and too expensive to ever hope to resolve in isolation, the federal government should be there to quickly assist them in their recovery. That is what makes us strong as a nation; that we can come together when necessary to prevent the pieces of our country from crumbling individually.

PREVIOUS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSES TO DISASTER RELIEF

As the Representative for the 18th District in Texas, I have firsthand experience with the massive and protracted destruction that storms like this can cause both to property and, more importantly, to the lives of citizens who are left to rebuild their lives and restore all that they have lost.

After the initial disaster response and search and rescue phases, we must begin to rebuild, a process that calls for a long-term commitment from officials in state, local, and federal government.

We can all recall Hurricane Ike in 2008, which heavily impacted many constituents in my district. At least 74 people lost their lives in the State of Texas, with 28 in Harris County and 17 in Galveston. Over 200,000 homes in the Houston-Galveston region were left damaged or destroyed as a result of Ike.

Congress appropriated $3 billion to Texas to help finance the infrastructure and housing recovery, which included individual and household assistance, disaster unemployment assistance, public assistance grants to state and local government and non-profit organizations to pay for debris removal, emergency protective measures and road repairs, and low-interest disaster loans provided by the Small Business Administration.

My visits to the affected areas fundamentally evidenced the need for long-term recovery and to get people back on their feet. My constituents and others in the affected areas needed and greatly appreciated the federal assistance they received, and so now that Americans in other parts of our nation need our help, we must move in a bipartisan fashion to provide it.

EXTENT OF DAMAGE CAUSED BY SANDY

As a nation, we continue to mourn the loss of at least 132 people in the United States due to Superstorm Sandy (60 in New York, 48 New York City; 34 in New Jersey; 16 in Pennsylvania, 7 in West Virginia). Many more were lost to Sandy in the Carribbean.

As devastating as Hurricane Ike was, the damage to property it caused (an estimated $29.5 billion) the costs associated with Superstorm Sandy are expected to be significantly higher. While we do not yet know the final numbers, the total amount of property damage resulting from Superstorm Sandy exceeds $62 billion.

In terms of dollars of property destruction, this ranks Superstorm Sandy second only to Hurricane Katrina ($128 billion, adjusted for inflation) (note: Hurricane Ike ranks 3rd).

Most gas stations in New York City and New Jersey were closed because of power shortages and depleted fuel supplies. Long lines formed at gas stations that were expected to be open.

Food, shelter and clothing are basic necessities, and right now far too many people are without access to them during these holidays and in brutally cold weather. With more cold weather in sight, things are not going to get any easier for residents of those communities.

Economic conditions in many affected communities are stagnant; stalled because the federal government has yet to provide funding. It took 10 days for Congress to approve roughly $50 billion in aid for Katrina, but Congress has yet to provide a comprehensive aid package for those affected by Sandy for more than two months.

CONCLUSION

We need to restore a sense of calm and stability in the lives of people affected by Superstorm Sandy. We need to ensure that small businesses in the affected areas are able to rebound as expeditiously as possible so that they can get the local economies moving again.

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