Nov. 4, 2012 – 8:08 p.m.

Sandy Could Give Boost to House-Passed FEMA Bill

A pair of House Republicans are pressing the Senate to take up a bill passed by their chamber that they said would help speed up the recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

The House passed the legislation (HR 2903), which reauthorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, by voice vote Sept. 19, shortly before Congress left for its fall break.

Although the legislation won more attention at the time for its proposals to overhaul the tribal disaster aid process and modernize the national integrated public alert and warning system, Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John L. Mica of Florida and bill sponsor Jeff Denham of California said in a news release last week that the measure could help cut through some FEMA red tape for Sandy recovery.

“A good response to a disaster is critical to saving lives and minimizing damage, and recovering from such devastation is critical to rebuilding local economies and helping people put their lives back together,” said Denham. “I introduced the FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012 to help expedite these efforts and streamline the disaster recovery programs to ensure our states and local communities can rebuild faster and in a more cost-effective way.”

The bill would take a number of small steps toward speeding up disaster recovery. It would require FEMA to review regulations and report to Congress on how they could be streamlined. It would create a new pilot program to clear regulatory hurdles toward rebuilding public infrastructure such as schools and hospitals and make permanent an expired pilot program to speed up debris removal. The measure would also speed up FEMA’s decisions on appeals for major disaster assistance.

The Obama administration encouraged the House to pass the bill because of its provisions that would give tribes the ability to ask the federal government to step in with assistance after major disasters strike their lands. And Obama, in the aftermath of the disaster, has pledged, “No bureaucracy. No red tape.”

But Mica said past disaster recovery efforts have been too slow.

“Without legislative reforms, the disaster recovery process for Sandy could be similarly plagued by unnecessary, costly delays,” he said. “The people of New York, New Jersey and other states impacted by Sandy cannot wait for years as their communities struggle to rebuild.”

The GOP news release said the bill was “stalled” in the Senate, and a spokesman for Mica, Justin Harclerode, said “the Senate has established a track record of failing to take up good House-passed bills.” A spokeswoman for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., disputed that characterization.

“The committee received the House bill just as Congress was preparing to recess for the elections, so the Senate is not stalling,” said the spokeswoman, Leslie Phillips. “Sen. Lieberman has a number of ideas of his own about disaster recovery and will review the House bill when he returns after the election.”