Disaster Recovery Reform Act headed to the President

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ASCE and our colleagues in the BuildStrong Coalition are pleased to acknowledge the October 3rd Senate passage of the bipartisan Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA as part of H.R. 302, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018. The bill will now go to the president’s desk, where it is expected to be signed into law. The provisions constituting the DRRA represent a significant improvement in U.S. disaster resilience policy, providing states with access to an enhanced, on-budget pre-disaster mitigation fund for activities that provide a measurable reduction of risk and focusing recovery funds toward resilient building code adoption and enforcement. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on September 26th.

The DRRA places 6% of annual disaster spending into a new national Pre-Disaster Mitigation account, providing new resources for states and communities to invest in preventative measures. This fund would be able to provide as much as an estimated $1 billion in pre-disaster assistance depending on the level of disaster spending in a given year, and importantly ensures that PDM funds can be used towards building code development and enforcement.

The bill also addresses specific issues related to the 2017 disasters and Hurricane Florence, including approximately $1.7 billion in aid to areas affected by Hurricane Florence.

Parts of the DRRA passed as part of the 2018 omnibus spending package, signed by the president in March, which dedicates $249 million for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program. The components of the DRRA included in H.R. 302 would increase the federal investment in pre-disaster mitigation, increase reimbursement caps for state and local governments on a range of disaster costs, and allow state and local governments to administer housing assistance grants.

Specifically, the legislation:

  • Amends the Stafford Act to establish increased and fixed reimbursement rates to state and local governments for direct and indirect administrative costs associated with disaster recovery efforts. This includes no more than 15 percent for hazard mitigation and 12 percent for essential assistance; repair, restoration, and replacement; debris removal; and transportation assistance.
  • Allows states the option to administer FEMA funding for direct temporary housing and permanent housing construction in the wake of a disaster. FEMA must fund 100 percent of the direct temporary housing costs.
  • Establishes the National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Mitigation Assistance Program, which would commit certain funding from the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to pre-disaster mitigation efforts. It would allocate 6percent of the combined obligations estimated following a major disaster (unemployment assistance, assistance to low-income migrant and seasonal farmworkers and crisis counseling assistance and training) to mitigation assistance.
  • Requires the FEMA administrator to develop a plan to streamline information collection processes for grant applications and make the process less burdensome and time consuming.
  • Directs FEMA to increase consideration of severe local impact when evaluating whether to recommend a major disaster declaration.
  • Allows the FEMA administrator to develop incentives and penalties to encourage state and local governments to expedite the timely closeout of recovery-related expenditures and activities.

The House passed several emergency management amendments to the bill throughout floor proceedings. In part, these amendments would:

  • Create an interagency council to improve coordination on the federal, state and local levels on extreme weather, resilience, preparedness and risk identification.
  • Improve FFEMA’s reimbursement amounts and processes for state and local governments in the areas of housing assistance, building inspections and in cases of delayed recoupment.
  • Require FEMA to coordinate emergency response plans with state, tribal and local governments.
  • Require FEMA to provide training to state, local, and tribal governments, first responders, and facilities that store hazardous materials in the event of major disaster.

ASCE joined with the BuildStrong Coalition in 2012 and has been working on a series of bills to improve the nation’s preparedness and response to disasters. The Coalition brings together firefighters, emergency responders, insurers, engineers, architects, contractors and manufacturers, as well as consumer organizations, code specialists and others.

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