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Public Statements

Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. JACKSON LEE. Madam Chair, I rise today to support H.R. 152 ``the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013,'' which will provide relief to citizens devastated by the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

Last month, the Administration requested $60.4 billion in federal aid to provide financial assistance to homeowners and businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy. Back 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, a $9.7 billion dollar 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. The issue before us is that in no other time in the last 2 decades have victims had to wait this long for relief.

HURRICANE IKE

Right after Hurricane Ike devastated Texas in September 2008, I worked hard with the Members of the Texas Congressional delegation to ensure that Texas was appropriated the recovery funds it so desperately needed. In early 2009, the State of Texas received part of these recovery funds, namely $219 million under the Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) program from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Overall, the Federal Government provided over $1 billion of federal aid for hurricane Ike relief by June 2009 including: $103 million to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for debris removal, $35 million to the Sam Houston Electric Cooperative for restoration work and $10 million to the Trinity Bay Conservation District for debris removal. I understand the plight of the New York Delegation.

Hurricane Ike wreaked havoc on Texas, particularly in Galveston and Houston. As we move forward with recovery efforts, it became clear that the impact of the storm had been widespread and many people were still in need of assistance. I suspect that these are the same circumstances under which the survivors of Hurricane Sandy find themselves. I want to remind everyone in this Chamber that during Hurricane Ike, more than 60 Americans and over 26 Texans died. Moreover, it resulted in the evacuation of over 1 million residents and caused over $11 billion worth of damage.

Hurricanes of the magnitude that we have faced over the last decade require a federal response. We have a duty and an obligation to help our neighbors. I am surprised by those who are quick to say that this situation is different that the Hurricanes that came before. Hurricane Sandy like Ike and Katrina took lives, destroyed homes, and devastated communities. Again, Hurricane Ike caused millions of dollars in damage throughout Houston and Galveston. The local agencies processing the people impacted by Hurricane Ike for which these funds were utilized, received these funds from the state and federal agencies six months late, but they did receive funds because the funds were available. The victims of Sandy are still waiting for a federal response.

The road to recovery and reconstruction was not easy after hurricane Ike, but with the cooperation of the United States government, those states affected were able to recover. I saw the destruction that hurricane Ike caused to the city of Houston's infrastructure and I have also seen how the city of Houston was

able to rebuild damaged roadways and bridges. Galveston was able to rebuild its shoreline, which has recently experienced its most lucrative tourist season since Hurricane Ike. With the necessary federal assistance, communities can recover from disaster.

HURRICANE KATRINA

Hurricane Katrina took the lives of 1,833 men, women, and children, while leaving roughly 400,000 people without jobs. Close to 275,000 homes were lost as a result of the record-breaking storm surge that developed and the dozens of levees that couldn't withstand the rage of Katrina. Hurricane Katrina caused an estimated $108 billion in damage, becoming America's costliest hurricane.

I would like to take a moment to paint a picture for Members of this body about the differences in response to this Hurricane and that of Hurricane Katrina, just in terms of funding. On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of the United States ravaging Americans from Texas to Florida, and even as far inland as the Ohio valley. In 5 days, on September 2, 2005, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill to provide $10.5 billion in emergency funding for disaster relief related to Hurricane Katrina. Six days later, Congress passed another bill for $51.8 billion in emergency appropriations. It took a total of 10 days for Congress to approve $62.3 billion in emergency funding for Hurricane Katrina relief. Here we are today, nearly 2 months after Sandy, still debating Hurricane Sandy funding.

Over 7 years ago, I sat down with NPR's Ed Gordon as a part of a special roundtable to discuss the impact of Hurricane Katrina and Washington's tremendously slow response time to disaster relief efforts. I recall the anger and frustration in the hearts and minds of Americans across the country at the Bush Administration's seemingly lack of urgency in dealing with the disaster.

At the time, Congress was able to pass an initial emergency relief bill worth $10 billion 4 days after Katrina made landfall, and then pass an additional $52 billion in funding 6 days after that. It took 10 days for congress to pass a Katrina relief bill worth $62.3 billion, and yet a comprehensive relief bill for Sandy has not yet been approved.

We now stand 78 days after the hurricane, which is appalling when you consider the fact we are dealing with Americans' humanity and livelihoods. We forecast these disasters; 10 days was too long for Katrina, and 78 days after Sandy is simply unacceptable.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast of the United States I, along with several other Members of Congress, introduced legislation to protect the families and businesses financially overwhelmed by the disaster.

When the Judiciary Committee considered the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act at the beginning of 2005, I offered an amendment to protect the victims of natural disasters like those who were unfortunately, eventually, devastated by Hurricane Katrina later that year.

Immediately after Hurricane Katrina, Members of Congress and I continued to fight for financial relief for those affected by natural disasters because that is the American way; we take care of our nation's most vulnerable citizens regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status or unfortunate circumstance. I'd like to think that 7 years after the passage of federal funds for the most expensive hurricane in our nation's history, that when the next massive storm arrives, law makers would be able to approve emergency relief bills in less than 10 days. Sadly, with Sandy, it seems as though we are moving in the opposite direction.

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.

SELECTED PROVISIONS OF H.R. 152

The funds in H.R. 152 will go to help restore both calm and stability to the affected communities by providing relief and rebuilding infrastructure, as well as to help the local economies to recover from stagnation.

Small Business Administration--

This funding will provide for the immediate needs of the SBA Disaster Loan Program to provide timely, low-interest financing for the repair and rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property for homeowners, renters, and businesses.

This funding would also provide grants to assist small businesses affected by Hurricane Sandy with disaster recovery and response problems.

FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA) DISASTER RELIEF FUND (DRF)

This funding will fulfill near-term needs for the DRF, the most immediate source of relief and recovery funds available to individuals, families, and communities to support ongoing recovery through affected areas.

This includes providing individual assistance such as temporary housing, crisis counseling, and disaster unemployment assistance.

It also provides funding for public assistance to local communities and certain nonprofits for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and repair, replacement, and restoration of disaster-damaged, publicly owned facilities and the facilities of certain nonprofit organizations.

Department of Transportation--

This funding will provide reasonable assistance and recovery to the four major affected transit agencies--New York's MTA, the Port Authority of NY/NJ, New Jersey Transit, and the City of New York DOT Ferries.

Language is included in the legislation to provide stringent oversight on the use of funding and the administration of grants.

DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT (HUD)

This funding through HUD's Community Development Fund will support critical and immediate community needs. This includes repairs to damage sustained by publicly owned hospitals, local roads and utilities, and small businesses.

Funding through HUD's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to support community needs, such as repairs to damage caused to publicly owned hospitals, local roads and utilities and small businesses.

Army Corps of Engineers--

The bill fully funds the Administration's updated estimates for Army Corps of Engineers projects for response and recovery to Superstorm Sandy.

As was done after previous disasters, these funds will help restore navigation channels, beaches, and other damaged infrastructure to pre-storm conditions. Moreover, the bill will provide funds to continue response and recovery activities for flood control, coastal emergency projects, and emergency dredging.

Department of Veterans Affairs--

This funding will go to repairs and reconstruction at the Manhattan VA hospital and other VA medical facilities, which sustained significant flood damage during the storm. These repairs are urgently needed to provide adequate medical services and care to veterans in the Northeast region, many of whom have had to move to other VA facilities following the storm.

PREVIOUS FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSES TO DISASTER RELIEF

As the representative for the 18th District in Texas, I know 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 longterm commitment from officials in state, local, and federal government.

As I stated above, 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 nonprofit 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 Caribbean.

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 comprehensive aid for Katrina, but Congress has yet to provide a comprehensive aid package for those affected by Sandy for more than two months.

CONCLUSION

Today, the $9.7 billion in relief granted by H.R. 41 granted is limited in scope and insufficient to address the entirety of the situation faced by residents of the affected areas. Here in the House, we must finish the job and pass H.R. 251. 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.

I am encouraged that with bipartisan support, we were able to pass H.R. 41 relief for Superstorm Sandy; however, we must now follow up and finish the job by passing H.R. 251. We know that disasters affect all of us at one point or another, and we must come together as one nation to give people access to relief that, realistically, only the federal government can provide.

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