Disaster Mitigation: Reviewing the Effectiveness and Costs of FEMA’s Resilience Programs

2167 Rayburn House Office Building

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0 Wednesday, May 01, 2024 @ 10:00 | Contact: Justin Harclerode 202-225-9446

This is a hearing of  the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.

Witness List:

  • Ms. Victoria Salinas, Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Administrator, Office of Resilience, Federal Emergency Management Agency | Witness Testimony

  • Opening remarks, as prepared, of Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-PA) from hearing, entitled, “Disaster Mitigation: Reviewing the Effectiveness and Costs of FEMA’s Resilience Programs”:

    I want to thank our witness, Ms. Victoria Salinas, the Senior Official Performing the Duties of Deputy Administrator for FEMA’s Office of Resilience, for being here today.

    Today’s hearing will focus on examining the costs and benefits of FEMA’s increasing emphasis on mitigation. 

    FEMA provides hazard mitigation funding to state, tribal, and territorial governments through several grant programs including the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program, and the Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program (FMA).  FEMA also provides hazard mitigation funding through its Public Assistance (PA) and Individual Assistance (IA) programs.

    FEMA reported that in fiscal year 2023, it had obligated more than $2.93 billion in funding for hazard mitigation grants.  Going further back in time, FEMA obligated more than $1.78 billion in fiscal year 2022, more than $2.34 billion in fiscal year 2021, more than $1.31 billion in fiscal year 2020, and more than $1.16 billion in fiscal year 2019.  That means that over the past five fiscal years, FEMA has obligated more than $9.5 billion for mitigation grant funding.  That’s not counting all the mitigation assistance spent in the years prior. 

    Given this huge sum of money, I have several concerns.

    First, despite literally spending billions of dollars on mitigation work, FEMA continues to ask Congress for more money.  It is my understanding that FEMA is once again asking for supplemental funding for the Disaster Relief Fund, which is estimated to run out of money sometime this summer.  And while FEMA claims that hazard mitigation funding will reduce the costs of disasters, FEMA continues to spend billions of dollars per disaster.  FEMA’s 2023 National Preparedness Report stated that between January 2020 and December 2022 there were 60 “climate-related” disasters, costing at least $1 billion each.  I fail to see how that $9.5 billion in mitigation funding has significantly saved our taxpayer dollars.

    I am also concerned with the types of mitigation projects that FEMA is choosing to fund.  In reviewing some of the more recent mitigation projects approved by FEMA, terms like “nature-based solutions” and “climate resilience” appear in many of the project descriptions.  FEMA is funding projects to plant trees and improve habitat for wildlife.  None of this is within the scope or responsibility of FEMA’s mission.  And if that’s where FEMA is funneling our taxpayer funds – is the agency really achieving the stated goals of these mitigation grants, which is to reduce disaster costs and save lives?

    Further, concerningly FEMA has continued to struggle to make hazard mitigation funding available to the communities that may need it the most.  The application process to receive mitigation grants is complicated – so complex, in fact, it creates real challenges for small communities attempting to apply for these funds.  We see wealthier states with the means to pay for outside consultants successfully receive FEMA funds while smaller states are passed over.  Are these funds truly being focused on reducing risk where it is most needed?  So, what I really want to know is how is FEMA awarding these funds?  Is the agency actually targeting investments to strategically counter the effects of natural disasters, or is it simply funneling money to states that have the resources available to jump through the hurdles and complete the application process?

    FEMA’s BRIC Program is a prime illustration of these concerns. For the first three years of funding, five states, accounting for 30 percent of the nation’s population, received half of the money through BRIC, whereas 24 smaller states, accounting for 21 percent of the nation’s population, combined were only awarded five percent of BRIC funding.  That’s a stark contrast.

    In fact, according to analysis done by outside groups, the San Francisco and New York metro areas have been the most successful in applying for BRIC funding.  Where is the accountability?  How can FEMA justify its allocation of funds?  I want to discuss these questions with our witness today.  I want to dig into how FEMA determines which projects have the merit to receive mitigation funding, and whether the process targets funding to projects that actually mitigate against disasters.

    FEMA can’t solve everyone’s problems, and if FEMA is going to fund mitigation, at the very least the projects should demonstrate they will actually reduce the costs of disasters.

    With that, I look forward to hearing from our witness on these issues.

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