Feb 12 2020

Legislation would allow certain eligible disaster mitigation projects to begin without the risk of losing potential federal funds

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Richard Burr (R-NC), Doug Jones (D-AL), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), James Lankford (R-OK) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced bipartisan legislation that would expedite the start of certain hazard mitigation projects after natural disasters, while grant applicants await federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) hazard mitigation grant program. 

Under current law, local stakeholders applying for federal funding for mitigation projects must wait until they receive a final eligibility determination from FEMA before they begin to purchase land or start construction on their project. If local officials purchase land or begin construction without an answer on their eligibility, the project is disqualified from receiving federal assistance. This requirement prevents important resiliency projects from starting and precludes communities from rebuilding as quickly as possible, ultimately making communities wait for years to find out they may not even be eligible.

The Hazard Eligibility and Local Projects (HELP) Act would change eligibility for FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program to allow local municipalities and states to move quickly on land acquisition and simple construction projects following a natural disaster.

“Following the destruction in North Carolina caused by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, I worked with our state delegation to secure billions of dollars in disaster relief funding so communities could recover as quickly as possible,” said Senator Tillis. “Unfortunately, red tape has prevented many of these projects from even being started and has drawn out the recovery process for thousands of North Carolinians. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation so we can bring relief to these communities sooner and allow them to start certain projects instead of waiting for the federal government. State and local municipalities know what they need to recover better than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and this bipartisan legislation will give flexibility to those who are affected by future storms.” 

“Communities that have been devastated by natural disasters should not have to wait on bureaucratic red-tape to begin rebuilding after the storm passes,” said Senator Burr. “Unfortunately, today cities that have applied for a federal Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant are hamstrung by overly burdensome regulations that delay initial recovery projects. This commonsense legislation will give local officials the flexibility to start their smaller-scale disaster relief work while waiting for a final decision on their Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Tillis, and I look forward to the Senate’s passage.”  

“I’ve seen firsthand the devastation that natural disasters have caused throughout the country and the state of Alabama,” said Senator Jones. “We need to do everything we can to cut red tape so that community safety projects can get started as soon as possible. This bipartisan legislation will allow local governments and states to move more quickly on land acquisition and simple construction projects that will protect Alabamians in the case of severe weather events.”

“In the aftermath of a natural disaster, every day counts,” said Senator Cornyn.  “As Texans have seen far too many times, government assistance – while well-intentioned and incredibly helpful – can be slow to reach those most in need.  We should be encouraging those who want to take immediate action to rebuild rather than punishing them by withholding federal funds.”

“Texas is no stranger to natural disasters, and in the wake of devastation, we’re well prepared to respond,” Senator Cruz said. “Too often, projects that can protect against future natural disasters get stuck in years of red-tape. It’s imperative that state and local officials – who are on the frontlines of disaster – are able to quickly and cost effectively utilize the funds for projects that will protect their residents from future storms. This bill is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to remove more bureaucratic roadblocks for storm mitigation efforts.”

“Buyouts may be the best option for flood victims who want to move away from flood-prone areas,” said Lankford. “After the storms and flooding in northeast Oklahoma last year, I spoke extensively with Oklahomans and FEMA officials about ways to improve the buyout process. This bill offers reforms to the program that will make it more useful for those who need it by speeding up the process so eligible projects can move forward as soon as possible while protecting available federal funds.”

“South Dakotans know all too well the damage that can be done by Mother Nature,” said Senator Rounds. “When storms strike, communities work to rebuild as quickly as possible. State and local governments shouldn’t have to wait on the federal bureaucracy to start simple construction projects following a natural disaster. Our bill will help to make sure federal funds continue to go toward eligible projects even after they’ve already been started, which makes the entire process more efficient.”

Representatives Lizzie Fletcher’s (TX-07) and Pete Olsen (TX-22) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives that was passed in December 2019.

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