Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives this week unanimously approved three bills that will strengthen the federal disaster response and recovery programs of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The bipartisan bills approved will ensure that the federal government fairly considers the needs of America’s smaller communities that are trying to rebuild from disasters, provide more certainty in disaster assistance decisions for state and local governments, and will improve FEMA transparency and efficiency for disaster grant applicants.
H.R. 1665 directs FEMA to appropriately weigh and consider severe local impact when evaluating whether to recommend a major disaster declaration. This bill ensures a more level playing field for smaller communities when impacted by severe disasters.
H.R. 1678 implements a statute of limitations on FEMA’s ability to recover grant assistance from recipients after a disaster, in cases where there is no evidence of fraud, waste or abuse.
H.R. 1679, the FEMA Accountability, Modernization and Transparency Act of 2017, modernizes FEMA’s management of grant programs to improve applicant accessibility and transparency. The bill was approved by a unanimous vote.
“Since becoming subcommittee chairman, I have made reforming FEMA and increasing its responsiveness to local communities a top priority,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), Chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee. “These bipartisan bills will streamline assistance to areas recovering from disasters, reduce burdens on state and local governments, and help to save lives and property.”
“One important task we have in Congress is to ensure that the course we set for a critical organization like FEMA is one that will ensure that states, tribes, local governments, and individuals are able to participate equally, fairly and in an open manner,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ranking Member of the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee. “I believe the passing of these bills sets a path towards improving accessibility, transparency, and certainty for all the stakeholders that FEMA serves.
“Recent severe weather in Illinois and across the Midwest reminds us that it is imperative we change the way FEMA determines the need for disaster relief,” said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), sponsor of H.R. 1665. “Right now, the amount Illinois has to reach to receive federal public assistance after a major disaster is $18 million – nearly double that of any of our neighboring states. Time and time again rural communities in my state and others have been denied assistance and unfairly punished by this formula. H.R. 1665 simply requires FEMA to take a greater look at the localized impact of a disaster, rather than just an arbitrary per-capita formula.”
“It’s just wrong that disaster victims are often re-victimized by FEMA inefficiencies. Here we are in the 21st Century, living private lives that revolve around technology – yet interacting with the government often feels like going back in time. Disaster victims still have to dial an 800 number, sit on hold and wait for one of the hundreds of FEMA employees to search a database to get an update on a claim’s status. The whole process is filled with uncertainty, is expensive and leaves taxpayers feeling extraordinarily frustrated,” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), sponsor of H.R. 1679. “These bipartisan reforms are common sense steps toward making the agency perform at a higher level. The American people deserve better from the federal government – especially after a disaster, when help is needed most – and we’re going to keep working to ensure they get it.”
“Florida is no stranger to the terrible power and ravages of hurricanes and tropical storms, and we recognize the need for emergency relief when such tragedies occur,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), co-sponsor H.R. 1678. “After approving and providing funds, it is inappropriate for FEMA to return over a decade later, when individuals and communities have finally stabilized their lives and their budgets, and attempt to recover funds. In the wake of natural disasters, displaced families and communities must know that their government stands prepared to assist in the recovery.”
“Right now in Florida we’re battling wildfires across the state and a brand new hurricane season is just over the horizon,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), co-sponsor H.R. 1678.
“These FEMA reforms are critical to ensuring the federal government fulfills its responsibility to help states recover when disaster strikes.”