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Hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee - Sandy Rebuilding Task Force


Location: Washington, DC

Chairman Menendez, Ranking Member Moran, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you forthe opportunity to testify today regarding the ongoing effort to rebuild in the region impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Because Sandy was one of the most devastating and costly natural disasters in our history, the President recognized that the response required an additional focus on rebuilding efforts coordinated across Federal agencies and State, local, and Tribal governments to effectively address the enormous range of regional issues.

On November 15, 2012, President Obama announced that I would lead the coordination of federal efforts to support the long-term rebuilding effort, and the President issued Executive Order 13632 on December 7, 2012, establishing the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, and appointed me to serve as its chair. Executive Order 13632 charges the Task Force to "work to ensure that the Federal Government continues to provide appropriate resources to support affected State, local, and tribal communities to improve the region's resilience, health, and prosperity by building for the future."

My responsibilities in this role occur in concert with the National Disaster Recovery Framework(NDRF) and involve cooperating closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the other agencies involved in recovery efforts. The focus of the Task Force is on coordinating Federal support as State, local and Tribal governments identify priorities, design, and implement individual rebuilding plans. I am the Federal government's primary lead on engaging with States, Tribes, local governments, the private sector, regional businesses, nonprofits, and community and philanthropic organizations on long-term Sandy rebuilding.

Sandy and the Nor'easter that followed have had immense and varied impacts across much of theeastern United States, with damage most severe in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland.Within the United States, the storm caused over 150 fatalities, major flooding, structural damage, and power loss to over 8.5 million homes and businesses, directly affecting more than 17 million people as far south as Puerto Rico, as far north as Maine.

Sandy caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and is estimated to be the secondmost costly storm in American history. Thousands of businesses and more than 650,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. State, local and Tribal governments are addressing damage to roads, bridges, mass transit and other essential infrastructure, including electrical and water treatment facilities, public
hospitals, and shorelines.

In addition to my concern as a citizen and as amember of this Administration, this is personal to me. I grew up in the region. I was born and raised in New York and worked on housing issues there, including serving as Mayor Bloomberg's Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. I also worked on housing issues for Prudential Mortgage
Capital in New Jersey, and my wife is originally from New Jersey. Many of my friends have been directly affected by the storm's devastation. In light of my deep roots in the region, I am particularly concerned with the devastation that Sandy has caused, and I am especially honored to have the opportunity to help with recovery and rebuilding efforts.

I have seen much of the damage first-hand, talked with State and local officials and citizens living with the aftermath of the storm, had discussions with Senators and Representatives from the area, and have met with other federal officials working on the recovery effort. Everyone involved in the recovery and rebuilding has demonstrated extraordinary dedication and courage.

Just as remarkable are the actions by average people I have spoken with -- individuals who have demonstrated a different brand of heroism by simply reaching out to help their neighbors, even as they were facing their own losses. I have seen bravery and determination that inspires me and my colleagues to work even harder, respond quicker, and develop more creative solutions.

With that mission inmindmy testimony today will cover: 1) an assessment of the ongoing recovery efforts; 2) a brief background on the formation and role of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and 3) the role of the supplemental funding provided by Congress.

Ongoing Response and Recovery Efforts

Before I describe the task force's activities, it is important to note the unprecedented cooperation that is taking place among Federal, State, local, and Tribal authorities. HUD, FEMA and other parts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as the Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture, plus the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and other agencies are all working together.

For example, as a result of coordination under the National Response Framework
(NRF), within a week after Sandy hit there were almost 11,000 National Guard and 17,000 Federal responders on the ground from FEMA, the Department of Defense, USACE, HUD, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, and HHS, as well as tens of thousands of utility workers from across the nation.

As of July 2013, FEMA and the SBA have served over 270,000 households and individuals and nearly 3,900 businesses. Additionally, 99.5% of Sandy-related National Flood Insurance Policy claims totaling over $7.8 billion have been paid out, and FEMA has provided $12 billion in funding to individuals and communities.

The start of the 2013 summer tourist season was one of the most closely watched indicators of the recovery. And I'm proud to say that thanks to the hard work of FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and so many others, on Memorial Day 2013, 97% of public beaches from New Jersey through Connecticut had re-opened.

The Role of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force

Our efforts on Sandy have been shaped by the lessons learned in past disasters while also working to streamline administrative processes and assist families, businesses and communities in an efficient and effective manner. The Administration has recognized that our experience during Hurricane Katrina and other disasters highlighted the need for additional guidance, structure, and support to improve how we as a Nation address disaster-related recovery and rebuilding challenges. In September 2009, then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and I were
charged with leading work on this effort and establishing a Long Term Disaster Recovery Working Group, composed ofmore than 20 Federal agencies. HUD, DHS, and theWorking Group consulted closely with State, local, and Tribal governments as well as experts and stakeholders, and they worked to improve the Nation's approach to disaster recovery and to develop operational guidance for recovery efforts.

As a result, in September 2011, FEMA published the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). The NDRF addresses the short, intermediate, and long-term challenges of managing disaster-related recovery and rebuilding. It sets forth flexible guidelines that enable Federal disaster recovery and restoration managers to operate in a unified and collaborative manner and to cooperate effectively with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments.

There are three primary lessons that are guiding our efforts to support local community rebuilding efforts. First, it is vitally important that both near and long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts start immediately following a disaster and that the Federal government takes a coordinated regional approach to the delivery of assistance to its State and local partners. To ensure that this happens, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force is filling this regional coordinating role, working in
coordination with the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinators under the NDRF, and focusing on rebuilding.

Second, this must be an "All-of-Nation" approach to rebuilding.While the Federal government has a key role to play in recovery, State, local, and Tribal governments must be the leaders in this effort.

To ensure the Task Force's efforts maintain a local focus, we quickly established an Advisory Group composed of 37 elected officials from impacted communities in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Maryland and Connecticut.We were also in constant contact with other state and local officials - which gave us real-time information about the rebuilding challenges communities faced.

When the Task Force officially terminates on September 30, 2013, FEMA and the lead agencies for the Recovery Support Functions, as described in the NDRF, will continue the Federal rebuilding coordinating efforts in the region.

Third, the recovery effort must include rebuilding in a more resilient fashion rather than simply recreating what was already there so that we are prepared for future disasters. One of the most critical concerns we heard from our local partners was that communities needed clear, accessible information about current and future flood risk. As one CEO who lost critical facilities to Sandy flooding put it, "just tellme how high to rebuild." In order to gather the best information on the risks the region faces, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Army Corps of
Engineers developed a tool which allows local planners and decision makers to click on a map and see projections of the impacts of rising sea levels as much as a century into the future. To ensure this science would be put into practice, the Administration established a single Flood Risk Reduction Standard that applied to all rebuilding projects funded by Sandy-Supplemental dollars.

But we have not just armed communities with the best available data -- we have also worked to connect communities with the most innovative engineering, planning and design ideas from around the world. That's why we launched Rebuild By Design, a multi-stage regional design competition, specifically to develop innovative projects to protect and enhance Sandy-affected communities.

Everybody has a part to play in building a stronger region, and we will continue to foster and encourage new ideas and learn from our recovery partners across the country and the globe.

The Task Force and Supplemental Funding

Rebuilding must be a community-driven effort, with a community-based vision at its heart. But supporting that vision through financial means is a key part of the Federal role -- one that has consistently been present for communities experiencing disaster.
On January 29, President Obama signed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act (DRAA) of 2013. The supplemental funding bill included funds for FEMA and USACE projects, Transportation, support for the Small Business Administration and its disaster loan program, Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR), funds to be provided to communities, and funding for a range of other critical priorities.

As of August 2013, federal agencies have obligated over $9.9 billion in DRAA funds to help communities rebuild after Sandy. The Federal Highway Administration allocated nearly $1 billion to rebuild roads and bridges damaged by Sandy and other disasters. HUD has also allocated the first $5.4 billion of CDBG-DR funding for Sandy recovery, and an additional $580 million to other state and local government to assist in their recovery from major disasters in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The Task Force authored a Rebuilding Strategy document that was released in August that establishes recommendations that will help guide tens of billions of dollars in funding from the Sandy Supplemental Appropriations Act that continue to flow to the region. In total, the Rebuilding Strategy includes 69 recommendations, many of which have already been adopted. They are divided into several policy priorities related to housing, small business and infrastructure issues that were identified through the Task Force's public engagement with local leaders and community groups and were developed in direct coordination with our partners across the Federal Government.

In addition to providing the necessary resources to continue ongoing response and recovery efforts, the DRAA also provides funding to help impacted communities effectively mitigate future risk of disaster to prevent losses of this magnitude from recurring.

We have solid evidence that sea levels are rising and that the risk of large scale disasters and catastrophic losses is increasing due to increasing development along our coasts and changes in demographics and climate. Our best science tells us that these trends will continue, that as sea levels continue to rise, this will further increase risks from storm surges and the intensity of extreme weather events, so it is vital that communities rebuild in a way that mitigates the risks
posed by current storms and under future conditions.

Investing inmitigation is critical not only for the future of our communities -- it is also cost effective. The National Institute for Building Safety's Multihazard Mitigation Council has estimated that for every dollar invested in hazardmitigation, a savings of four dollars is achieved. Disaster survivors currently have access to post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Funds in coordination with their state and local hazard mitigation plans to assist in taking protective mitigation actions against
future events. Such investments are critical in a time of constrained resources. In addition, it is critical to maximize the impact of every dollar of supplemental funding.

To that end, the Rebuilding Strategy outlines a process for coordinating infrastructure projects across the entire region by bringing all of the relevant federal, state and local layers to the table to discuss those projects and map connections and interdependencies between them. This process will help us save money, improve the effectiveness of these projects and accelerate the pace at which they're built. The Strategy also highlights how the alignment of federal funding and increased leverage of non-Federal funds for infrastructure projects are important to the success of disaster recovery in the Sandy affected region.

I look forward to continuing to work with this Subcommittee, others in Congress and our Federal, State, local, and Tribal partners to help make local rebuilding visions a reality, to support communities that are rebuilding in a way that makes them stronger,more economically competitive and better prepared to withstand the next storm and risks far into the future, and to help inform how the Federal government responds to disasters in the future.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

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