FEMA Reauthorization: Recovering Quicker and Smarter
Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA)
Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
Hearing on FEMA Reauthorization: Recovering Quicker and Smarter
September 18, 2013
(Remarks as Prepared)
First I want to welcome our new subcommittee ranking member, Mr. Carson. I look forward to working closely with him on these important issues. And, I want to also thank Ranking Member Norton for a decade of service as either ranking or chairman of this subcommittee. I know she will continue to be an active member of this subcommittee and I look forward to continuing to work with her on these issues.
I also want to welcome Mr. Cannon, who will be on the second panel today. He is here from my home state of Pennsylvania and serves as Director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. I look forward to hearing from him today.
Before we begin, I want to take a moment to send our prayers to the people of Colorado. Just this past weekend a major disaster declaration was issued for the severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides that began on September 11th. Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed and the search and rescue operations are ongoing. Tragically, there have been deaths and many still unaccounted for.
We know even after the storms have passed and the rescue and response operations are completed, these communities will continue to face a devastating situation. They will be tasked to try and put their lives back together again and rebuild their homes, businesses and communities: a process that has been bogged down with red-tape, creating a bureaucratic nightmare for communities already devastated by the loss of loved ones and by the disaster itself.
It is for this reason, earlier this year, we enacted the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act. That Act included key provisions to streamline the rebuilding process following disasters. The purpose of the hearing today is to review how those reforms are being applied and implemented and how they can help communities like those in Colorado rebuild faster. We will examine how these reforms are currently being used in the recovery efforts to Hurricane Sandy, the tornadoes in Oklahoma and other recent disasters. We will also examine how we ensure effective coordination among federal, state, tribal, and local agencies in helping communities recover quicker and smarter.
Last October, Hurricane Sandy made landfall and brought with it storm surges of more than 11 feet, killing more than 100 people, destroying or damaging thousands of homes, and leaving more than 8 million people without power. Communities in states all along the eastern seaboard were hit, including my home state of Pennsylvania. Just this May, we saw Oklahoma hit by an EF-5 tornado with winds up to 210 miles per hour and over a mile wide, devastating homes and businesses and leaving dozens dead including children and infants.
We know we will have natural disasters. We know we can expect hurricanes, tornados, flooding, wildfires and even earthquakes. We cannot stop them, but we can prepare, mitigate against, and plan for recovery to minimize their impact.
There have been a lot of lessons learned from previous disasters. Following Hurricane Katrina, we saw and continue to see years after that disaster, the rebuilding still ongoing. When communities are devastated by disasters and people have lost loved ones, their homes, the businesses where they worked, and their communities, we must do better at helping those communities recover and rebuild and put their lives back together again. A lengthy rebuilding process, riddled with red-tape, serves no one. It not only prolongs the harm to those communities, but results in higher costs. The longer it takes to recover, the more it costs to rebuild and the more of an impact there is on the local economies. While the Congress enacted the Post-Katrina Act to reform preparedness and planning for disasters, recovery remained a slow, costly and frustrating process.
In January of this year, Congress enacted the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. That act, incorporated many of the reforms this Committee crafted to streamline and reduce costs in the recovery process. That bill included reforms to cut the red tape in debris removal and Public Assistance for public infrastructure and building projects by allowing states to choose to receive funding based on cost-estimates and consolidate projects. The bill also required FEMA to finally clarify its criteria for the Individual and Households assistance so that States can have a better idea when their constituents will qualify for aid. We also worked to encourage more advance funding for mitigation – so communities can rebuild smarter and better. These and other reforms in that legislation should help ensure communities can rebuild faster and in ways that make the most sense for them.
But, while FEMA is the lead agency in disasters, we know their federal partners are critical. HUD, for example, through its Community Block Grant Program is a key component to the rebuilding process. SBA is critical in ensuring business owners and home owners can obtain affordable financing in their rebuilding process. I know how important these partners are. When my district was hit by Hurricane Irene and homes and businesses were flooded, I saw how important SBA loans were in the rebuilding process. I was concerned and continue to be concerned about the affordability of SBA’s loans. When people have lost everything from a disaster, we must ensure we do what is possible to help.
That is why I introduced the Disaster Loan Fairness Act of 2013. That bill is intended to make SBA loans more affordable for borrowers, including homeowners, following a disaster. I hope to work with the SBA on solutions to this issue.
And, I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today who represent all levels of government – federal, State, tribal, and local – to hear how the recovery efforts are going in recent disasters, how the Sandy reforms are being implemented, and recommendations on any further improvements to the process. I thank all the witnesses for being here today.
Click here for additional information from today’s hearing, including testimony, video, and background information.
# # #