Barletta Leads Hearing Examining How Communities Can Mitigate Damage and Recover from Disasters
Click here to watch Rep. Barletta question witnesses during the hearing on disaster preparedness.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) last week led a hearing on how to protect infrastructure from disaster damage, control disaster spending, and ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is able to respond when the nation needs it most. According to numerous studies, disaster losses and federal disaster spending have increased significantly over the last 50 years. However, despite this increased spending, the number of federally declared disasters is not growing. Rather, one-quarter of all presidentially declared disasters consume more than 90 percent of federal spending on disasters. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Barletta examined ways to protect against growing costs of large disasters, including providing federal funding for grant programs and streamlining assistance to local communities recovering from disasters.
“Right after I became a member of Congress in 2011, my own district was hit hard by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Strom Lee,” Barletta said. “As we were rebuilding, I was amazed that much of the federal assistance was used to rebuild in the same place in the same way, leaving people vulnerable to the next storm. The federal government has a responsibility to respond after a disaster, but we also have a duty to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensure what is rebuilt can withstand the next disaster.”
The witnesses, including former FEMA Administrators Craig Fugate and David Paulison, discussed a number of bold proposals to protect our nation from the growing costs of large disasters, including the creation of a disaster deductible, federal cost share adjustments, and the consolidation of disaster recovery programs.
Barletta questioned Administrator Fugate about the Disaster Simplified Assistance Value Enhancement (Disaster SAVE) Act’s potential to reduce costs to communities recovering from disasters.
“Earlier this year, I introduced and the House passed the Disaster SAVE Act, which would increase FEMA’s small project threshold to $500,000. Do you support this legislation and could you describe how you think it could speed up disaster recovery, reduce administrative burdens, and lower costs?”
“On small projects, we pretty much end up spending as much money…as we do big ones because of the overhead,” Fugate said. “By increasing the [small project] threshold…it reduces the overhead burden on local governments and states.”
Barletta’s Disaster SAVE Act, H.R. 1214, directs FEMA to expedite assistance to local communities recovering from disasters and provide them with greater flexibility to serve their residents. Barletta’s bill temporarily increases FEMA’s simplified projects threshold for disaster assistance to $500,000 and removes red tape to allow local governments more autonomy in managing recovery efforts. The bill, which unanimously passed the House and is currently in the Senate, will streamline the efficient and effective delivery of assistance for small disaster recovery projects without reducing oversight.
Barletta also questioned Chief John Sinclair, President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, about the need for the federal government to continue funding disaster preparedness grants, including Assistance to Firefighter Grants (AFG). Barletta has long championed these grants, which help local fire departments and first responders provide around the clock emergency services to their communities.
“As a former mayor, I know how critical Assistance to Firefighter Grants can be to local fire stations in obtaining the personal protective equipment they need,” Barletta said. “Can you tell us how fire grants and other preparedness grants help our first responders prepare to manage the consequences of all hazards and what might happen if those capabilities were removed or diminished?”
“The AFG and the SAFER grant programs have been very good for providing opportunities for people to upgrade their equipment,” Sinclair said. “I can tell you that in 2007 and 2008, at my local organization, we were able to put in an AFG grant…that allowed us to become a much more effective and efficient system for the community.”