House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Approves the Disaster Recovery Reform Act
Washington, DC – (RealEstateRama) — A series of bipartisan federal disaster policy changes authored by Congressman Garret Graves (R-South Louisiana) – including a fix to the duplication of benefits problem plaguing many Louisiana flood and other disaster victims – were approved yesterday by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in sweeping FEMA reform legislation.
H.R. 4460, “The Disaster Recovery Reform Act” (DRRA), which was unanimously approved by the committee, makes critical reforms to FEMA’s disaster response and recovery programs to provide on-the-ground help and to cut through bureaucracies when disaster strikes so that families, individuals, civic organizations, small businesses, state and local governments, and others in our communities can better prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against floods, hurricanes and disasters of all kinds. The DRRA represents an important move toward the federal government taking a more proactive approach to disaster preparation, relief and recovery – a policy shift that Graves has long advocated.
The bill is expected to be voted on by the full U.S. House of Representatives in December.
“This is one of the most significant disaster recovery and preparedness bills in decades,” said Graves. “The legislation truly captures and takes action on the frontline feedback and lessons learned from our August flood, recent hurricanes and other events. This is the way Congress is supposed to work.”
“It is critical we as a Nation do everything in our power to help communities struggling to recover from disasters, but in doing so we must ensure we are building more resilient communities that are better prepared for when the next disaster strikes,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR).
Below are a handful of Graves’s policies included in the bill:
Graves-Richmond “duplication of benefits” legislation – DRRA includes the text of H.R. 4438, introduced by Congressmen Graves and Richmond, which eliminates the flawed “duplication of benefits” policy that prevents Louisiana flood survivors from gaining access to Restore Louisiana grants. As many as 10,000 Louisiana flood victims will be able to access the federally-funded Restore Louisiana grants administered by the state. The policy will also benefit hard hit areas like Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Graves-Richmond streamlines flood mitigation – The Graves/Richmond amendment also clarifies the flexibility to states and local governments to complete much needed flood mitigation projects, like the Comite River Diversion Canal. Under the provision, FEMA hazard mitigation funds are clearly authorized to complete Army Corps of Engineers flood, drainage, coastal and hurricane projects. The congressional delegation has appropriated nearly $300,000,000 in federal funds to the state for hazard mitigation projects such as the Comite project.
Building Back Faster and Smarter – H.R. 4460 establishes a new program where rebuilding and recovery efforts can include resilient construction to help prevent repetitive losses and to prepare for future disasters – ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. The bill also funds a “surge” of building inspectors to help address permitting and assessment activities that typically delay rebuilding and recovery.
Proactive Resilience – Rather than waiting for disaster to strike, the bill creates a new fund to address resilience projects (i.e. flood control, hurricane protection, elevating structures, etc.) before floods and hurricanes strike. This proactive shift will help to complete stalled Corps of Engineers projects and advance federal-state-local partnerships in preventing disaster losses and the loss of life. The legislation also provides financial incentives for states and local governments that make resilience investments to prevent flooding and other losses.
Food banks and Long-term Recovery Groups – The committee unanimously adopted the Graves amendment requiring FEMA to more closely collaborate with food banks like the Greater Baton Rouge Area Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul, and Long-term Recovery Groups like Rebuild Louisiana, Samaritan’s Purse, and others. The amendment also makes food banks eligible for FEMA repair assistance.
Arbitration for Local Governments – Another Graves amendment was unanimously adopted that restores the arbitration process at FEMA that will help facilitate more rapid reimbursement to local governments that are delayed and denied due to FEMA resistance or inconsistent policies. Arbitration creates an independent, quasi-judicial, balanced, objective process to resolve lingering, costly disputes that stymie recovery. In many cases, our local governments cannot afford the legal costs of fighting FEMA. This amendment provides a quick and fair resolution process to resolve disagreements that delay disaster recovery.
Submerged Roads – FEMA Public Assistance for inundated and submerged roads is highly inconsistent and frequently arbitrary, which leads to confused efforts to repair or replace much needed roads damaged by floodwaters, like the significant number of damaged roads in Livingston, Ascension, East Feliciana, East Baton Rouge and Iberville Parishes. This amendment requires FEMA to work with the Federal Highway Administration to develop a consistent, reliable, reasonable policy to cover damages to our roadways.
Proof of Insurance – Katrina survivors receiving federal assistance are required to obtain and maintain flood insurance. FEMA requires Louisiana to act as the flood insurance police for those receiving this assistance – a job clearly outside the bounds of state responsibility – or FEMA will penalize the state for failing to enforce. The Graves “proof of insurance” maintains a reasonable insurance requirement while removing the bureaucratic, legacy Katrina mandate. Added at the state’s request, the amendment could save the state nearly $100 million in FEMA reimbursements.
The Disaster Recovery Reform Act also includes these critical Graves-supported provisions:
Pets and Service Animals – the bill requires the Department of Homeland Security to engage veterinary schools, like the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, to develop emergency teams to launch with first responders during disasters. These specialized teams will help to train emergency managers and work to take care of service animals and others affected by disasters. In many cases, we saw animals abandoned in the 2016 floods.
Eliminate Duplicative Applications – DRRA requires FEMA and other agencies work to implement a streamlined process whereby disaster victims can provide information one time to a federal agency rather than having to apply multiple times to multiple agencies for disaster assistance.
FEMA Transparency – FEMA is required to establish an online system that discloses disaster costs, contracts and other activities to help improve accountability and prevent fraud.
I-12 “Wall” – H.R. 4460 requires FEMA to collaborate with the Federal Highway Administration to develop policy on the design, construction and repair of evacuations routes like I-12 in Baton Rouge and Livingston Parish. The agencies must factor risks to flood vulnerability and the ability to effectively manage contraflow operations, among other criteria. This policy will help to make the necessary changes to the interstate barrier and drainage to facilitate evacuations and road usage during floods.
FEMA assistance for Houses of Worship – Without fail, some of the most reliable, generous agents of recovery are the many churches in the Capital Region. Graves pushed hard for the H.R. 4460 provision that qualifies houses of worship and faith-based non-profits for FEMA assistance to repair, restore or replace when they are damaged.
Assistance to Survivors with Disabilities – Current law allows individuals up to $33,300 in FEMA assistance. H.R. 4460 includes a Graves-supported provision that will extend FEMA assistance above this amount to repair or replace damaged accessibility features for individuals with disabilities. During the August 2016 flood, Congressman Graves’ office worked closely with the autistic community and Trach Mommas of Louisiana to address their specific disaster needs. This provision addresses a number of problems identified in those efforts.
Localized Management of MHUs and Temporary Housing – H.R. 4460 authorizes states to develop regional, customized recovery housing options. This departure from FEMA’s one-size-fits-all policy will allow states to decide the best options for temporary housing solutions and will position local communities for a greater role in developing the right recovery options for South Louisiana. This provision addresses the flaws in future Shelter-at-Home type programs to provide housing to disaster victims and will help save taxpayer dollars by preventing the excessive funding spent on out of state mobile homes.
The march toward FEMA reform and improved disaster recovery continues. H.R. 4460 follows these important reforms:
H.R. 1679, the “FEMA Accountability, Modernization and Transparency Act”– This Rep. Garret Graves bill became law on November 13, 2017. It creates an online portal for applicants to access their FEMA accounts for timely updates on and greater efficiency in disaster assistance funding. The law also facilitates important communication among federal, state and local jurisdictions to speed disaster recovery.
H.R. 1678 – Rep. Lois Frankel’s bill requires FEMA to more quickly close out lingering public assistance projects. The delay adds cost to public assistance applicants like schools and libraries that are anxious to conclude recovery.
H.R. 1117 – Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s bill became law in October. It calls on FEMA to reverse their illogical disaster management procedure of deploying and redeploying disaster personnel every few weeks, which results in disruption, confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, mistakes and delay in recovery efforts. The law also requires FEMA to maintain continuity of record keeping, which currently creates an environment of disruption, confusion, frustration, misunderstanding, mistakes and delay in recovery efforts.
H.R. 3179, the “Disaster Assistance Fairness and Accountability Act” – this Rep. Thomas MacArthur bill passed in committee and awaits full consideration by the House of Representatives. The bill prohibits FEMA from taking any action to recoup disaster assistance from an individual after more than three years since receiving the assistance. The bill would force FEMA to conduct their due diligence more responsibly and efficiently and leave survivors to their rebuilding efforts.
Click the image below to watch a T&I Committee-produced video of Rep Graves talking more about the bill.