U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   09/24/2003
 
Statement of Dale Shipley
Executive Director
The Ohio Emergency Management Agency
On behalf of the National Emergency Management Association

FEMA Oversight.

Introduction

Thank you Chairman Voinovich, Ranking Member Carper, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee for allowing me the opportunity to provide you with testimony on the public assistance program and emergency preparedness issues. My name is Dale Shipley and I am representing the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) as the Vice-Chairman of the Legislative Committee and as a Past-President of the Association. My daily job is the Executive Director of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. In my statement, I am representing the state emergency management directors in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories who are its core members. NEMA’s members are responsible to their governors for emergency preparedness, homeland security, mitigation, response, and recovery activities.

This is a historic time as the Congress and the Administration have reorganized to address the Department of Homeland Security, yet it is critical that we remember that all-hazards disaster preparedness is the basis that we have used to build homeland security preparedness. At no time was this made more apparent than in preparation for Hurricane Isabel last week and as the Mid-Atlantic States begin their recovery from damages caused by this ravaging storm. While focus remains high on homeland security, we as a nation cannot forget the key programs related to natural disasters and the carefully crafted authority of the Stafford Act that governs our mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities. Today, I’d like to tell you about how the current program is working and offer some suggestions that you might consider to make our disaster response and recovery program stronger.

FEMA IN THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

NEMA supported efforts by Congress and the Administration to include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in its entirety in the new Department of Homeland Security. FEMA continues to maintain an all-hazards approach to disasters, which both NEMA and Secretary Ridge vigorously support. State emergency management agencies continue to interface with FEMA on a regular basis, as was the case before the Department was created. In Ohio, we have had two presidential disaster declarations since March 2003. We have seen no changes in the speed, availability, or flexibility of assistance since FEMA has become a part of the Department of Homeland Security then we experienced with two presidential disaster declarations before March 2003.

Certainly the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel has shown that regardless of the new focus on terrorism, we must continue all-hazards preparedness activities and all-hazards programs like the Emergency Management Performance Grant Program (EMPG). EMPG is the program that enables the emergency management infrastructure to work in state and local governments through its flexibility to address unique needs in each state. These funds and the requirements associated with them maintain the national system of preparedness and coordination of emergency response and recovery in the United States.

NEMA understands that in any new Department there is a learning curve and a meshing of cultures of the various agencies. We hope to continue an open dialogue and good working relationships with key offices such as FEMA in the Department, as we develop new relationships with other agencies in the Department as they address new ventures.

PUBLIC ASSISTANCE

After a disaster, the Stafford Act provides for assistance to state and local governments and qualifies certain private non-profit facilities for disaster relief. In particular, public assistance helps to address debris removal, emergency protective measures, road systems and bridges, water control facilities, public buildings and their contents, public utilities, and parks and recreational facilities. Public assistance is particularly important for disaster relief because communities need to have vital functions restored in order to get back on their feet.

Ohio’s current public assistance program addresses disaster impacts on government related functions. After a disaster, the Ohio public assistance staff coordinates with FEMA to assist applicants with identifying eligible projects. During the last federal fiscal year we had 4 presidentially declared disasters in Ohio with $49 million of public assistance and 997 applicants.

Ohio has two full-time employees who manage the public assistance program and act as an interface for governmental entities, all applicants, and the federal government. The staff is charged with keeping all records, handling all reporting requirements, closing-out all the projects and disasters, and addressing the 25 percent cost-shares. The Ohio staff also trains local officials on debris removal, documentation, and damage assessment.

In addition, our staff manages one of the few state public assistance programs financed by state funds. Our public assistance officers handle damage under gubernatorial disaster declarations that are not large enough for federal declarations. In the last federal fiscal year, we have had four of these gubernatorial declarations amounting to $4.8 million of assistance and 83 applications. Routinely, public assistance reconstruction projects take up to two years to complete, so our staff in Ohio is very busy handling multiple projects and multiple disasters.

This spring, many state and local government had problems getting public assistance beyond categories A and B, which includes debris removal and emergency protection measures, due to the lack of funds in the disaster relief fund. In fact, a number of states are still in the process of receiving funds towards public assistance projects going back to the President’s Day winter storms in some states. Absent federal supplemental assistance, which is provided by law, state and local governments have to come up with other sources of funding to begin and complete these projects. In the tight fiscal environment, the lack of funding is particularly troubling, as poorer communities cannot afford to front the costs. State and local governments have had to front funds for projects while waiting until August for additional federal appropriations for the disaster relief fund.

Appropriations for fiscal year 2003 only included $800 million for the disaster relief fund, while a typical appropriation in previous years has been around $1.8 billion to $2.2 billion, plus supplementals to address disasters. While we appreciate recent efforts of Congress to get disaster relief funds to state and local governments in August, 2003, we do not support this piecemeal approach to the disaster appropriations process. Assistance for reconstruction projects and for disasters victims must not be put on hold, since any deferment limits the ability for a community and of an individual or family to recover from a disaster. Delays in assistance mean delays in recovery, and overall those delays hamper our national economy.

I want to share with you some couple of examples that illustrate how important getting public assistance funding to communities.

· Southern Ohio – Monroe County received a presidential disaster declaration (FEMA disaster declaration 1453) for snow and ice storms in February 2003. The County had multiple needs for road repairs. The applicant was approved for $498,729, but federal funds were not available to draw down for use until September 8, 2003. This same applicant was impacted by storms and flooding included in FEMA disaster declaration 1484 in August 2003. We have yet to determine if federal funds are available for this recent declaration. Monroe County has a population of about 15,000, which is not a very large tax base to be able to front a half a million dollars; and

· The City of Portsmouth in Scioto County – As a result of an ice storm in which the city lost thousands of trees, the city was approved for $319,250 for debris removal. FEMA funds were not available for draw down until the last week of August 2003. The state had to help the city get an extension, since the debris removal category funds expire after six months.

The advent of terrorism related attacks that involve the potential use of chemical, biological, radiological and explosives bring a unique challenge to programs that were designed to address natural and man-made disasters. Speaking as the Ohio Director, it may be appropriate to enlarge the scope of eligibility under terrorism and catastrophic disasters. Obviously, there is currently room for flexibility and adjustment in the Stafford Act and that flexibility was exercised by federal officials following September 11, 2001.

FEMA is looking closely at the public assistance program and is exploring ways to allow states to manage some aspects of the program. NEMA is participating on a concept development working group to identify the needs of the public assistance program in the current environment and when several disasters occur simultaneously within a short time period such as garden-variety disasters and catastrophic disasters. One scenario could be allowing states the option of state management of the public assistance program. My colleagues in Arizona have managed the federal public assistance in the last three disasters. One of the things they find difficult is the lack of funding to maintain continuity and institutional memory for disasters, since many of these positions are temporary. Conversely, if a state is unable to manage the program it would need to have the option of utilizing FEMA’s resources to manage the program. Ideally, federal assistance would contribute towards a Public Assistance Officer (PAO) in each state who could provide training and awareness to applicants. Having a dedicated PAO could lead to greater consistency and faster recovery which could cause a reduction in overall disaster costs.

OTHER ISSUES

In addition to public assistance, there are other key pre-and post-disaster programs for which this Committee has oversight that I wish to bring to your attention. We ask for your assistance to address these issues.

1. INDIVIDUALS AND HOUSEHOLDS REPAIR CAP FIX

When the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (DMA2K) was signed into law, a provision was inadvertently changed in the bill that lowered the cap on assistance for individuals and households to repair damaged residences. This assistance includes from the cap includes repair of owner-occupied private residences, to a safe and sanitary condition. Repair assistance is used to allow disaster victims to continue living in damaged residences after a disaster and thus minimizing the overall disaster costs. Originally, the cap was set at more than $5,000, but could be increased to as much as $15,000. With DMA2K’s enactment, the cap was lowered to $5,000. We call on this Committee to address this error in correction legislation, so that disaster victims are not limited to $5,000 when no other assistance is available. We suggest calling this assistance “initial” and support FEMA’s suggested language to fix the problem. This spring, many state emergency management directors found this provision hampering when responding to tornadoes and floods. Typically the persons who have no other means of assistance are those most highly impacted by this provision. We expect the cap to become an issue in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel as well.

2. PREDISASTER MITIGATION

NEMA was instrumental in working with this Committee during the development of the legislation that initially authorized a predisaster mitigation program through the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (DMA2K) (P.L. 106-390). Pre-disaster mitigation is essential, but we need to ensure that pre-disaster mitigation corresponds with DMA2K that was passed overwhelmingly by the House and Senate and signed into law.

Title I of the DMA2K expires on December 31, 2003. While the House and Senate have appropriated funds for the program in their own versions of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bills at $180 million and $150 million respectively, we need program reauthorization to prevent the program from being forgotten and not funded in future years. NEMA strongly believes that this program, coupled with the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is effective at reducing the costs of disasters overall by saving lives and protecting property. Each program has a specific function that is relative to the environment that exists before a disaster and after a disaster. For example, it is easier to convince the homeowner of a waterfront property of the need to relocate from the floodplain after a disaster occurs and the home is filled with mud and water than it would be on a serene sunny day.

Fiscal year 2003, was the first year that FEMA received funding for the national competitive predisaster mitigation program. The funding level was $150 million and currently state and local governments are working cooperatively to complete project applications and to submit them to FEMA. As NEMA understand the process, initial reviews will begin in early October and the peer reviews will commence in late October. The predisaster mitigation program is in its infancy, as the first round of significant funding has only just been made available and not yet awarded. It would be a shame to let the program die at this time without having been able to make any demonstrable achievements in mitigation. NEMA believes that the value of the program will be evidenced after the projects are approved and implemented. We therefore are asking this Committee to reauthorize the program for three years, at which time FEMA should be asked to provide evidence to Congress of the achievements made as a result of the predisaster mitigation program.

Early on, NEMA believed that the predisaster mitigation program should not be a competitive program, however, the Administration’s budget proposals to make the program competitive were affirmed by Congress in fiscal year 2003. FEMA began implementing the requirements of DMA2K two years ago with the requirement of state and local multi-hazard mitigation plans (Section 322 plans). With impending deadlines for these plans on November 1, 2003 and November 1, 2004 – many state and local governments have submitted plans for consideration or are actively involved in developing these mitigation plans, despite the fact that no significant source of federal funding was provided to state and local governments to accomplish this mandate. The 322 plans are essential to identifying key areas where mitigation resources are needed in each state and will work hand-in-hand with the predisaster mitigation program and the HMGP program. We were a bit surprised by some of the FEMA guidance on the predisaster mitigation program. In particular, NEMA is worried that the heavy focus of the program on repetitive loss priorities for floods will deflect from the program’s intended all-hazards approach. We are also concerned that management costs will not be available to state and local governments unless a project is approved. This will again place smaller and less affluent communities at a disadvantage, since they are not able to provide the costs associated with hiring a consultant to prepare the applications and an engineer necessary for the environmental and historical reviews, as well as the benefit costs analysis. We suggest that future year programs allow for administrative costs out of the total program funds at the beginning of the notice of availability of funds. We also suggest that cost share requirements may place some communities and states at a disadvantage and discourage them from applying for the predisaster mitigation program. Waivers in cost-share requirements would be a way to address this problem in a tough financial environment for state and local governments.

Because NEMA firmly believes in predisaster and post-disaster mitigation, we have re-energized the Stafford Act Coalition. A group of thirteen associations representing a variety of interests, including the American Red Cross, the National Rural Electric Cooperative, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties have supported both predisaster mitigation reauthorization and restoring the HMGP formula to 15 percent. We believe that such wide and varied support, with no opposition known, shows the need to reauthorize the predisaster mitigation program and to keep the HMGP program in place at the 15 percent level.

3. HAZARD MITIGATION GRANT PROGRAM

The Administration’s budget proposal to eliminate the post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) in favor of funding a competitive pre-disaster mitigation program is wrong. While federal costs towards disasters remain a concern, significant commitments must be made towards both pre-disaster and a fully funded post-disaster mitigation in order to lower overall disaster costs in the long run.

Last year, Congress changed the formula for post-disaster mitigation grants from 15 percent to 7.5 percent. This change limits the availability of funds for post-disaster mitigation and prevents the lessons learned from disasters from being immediately incorporated into mitigation projects to prevent losses of life and destruction of property. State governments no longer can offer buy-outs or mitigation projects to many disaster victims as a result. The months immediately following disasters provide unique opportunities to efficiently incorporate risk reduction measures in a very cost-effective manner, in many cases lowering the overall cost of the project by leveraging other funding sources including insurance settlements. We appreciate efforts by the Senate and the House to keep the 7.5 percent formula in place in the House and Senate versions of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations. NEMA supports keeping the program in place. As authorizers, we ask that you maintain the program and restore the formula to 15 percent.

The HMGP has proven to be a highly effective tool in steering communities toward risk reduction measures, in many cases breaking repetitive loss cycles that have cost other federal disaster relief programs multiple times. Cost-benefit analysis is currently a requirement for predisaster mitigation programs. In a purely competitive grant program, lower income communities, often those most at risk to natural disaster, will not effectively compete with more prosperous cities. Also, disasters graphically and vividly expose the need for and value of mitigation projects. We must not lose these opportunities to initiate projects to enhance our communities and reduce future disaster costs. Damage caused by disasters would go largely unrepaired thereby further impacting the economic and social recovery of particular areas. There are not enough mitigation dollars available to address all of the vulnerabilities that exist in this country. During Hurricane Isabel, 220 homes in the Bell Haven, North Carolina (Beaufort County) that were elevated with HMGP funds after Hurricane Fran in 1996 did not flood, despite significant flooding on the Pungo River. This example shows that HMGP works.

Making mitigation funds available only in a predisaster competitive environment will set this country’s mitigation efforts back by removing the prime motivation factor, the disaster itself. The HMGP change is perhaps one of the most burning issues for emergency managers across the country. At this point we have not been able to quantify which projects were laid aside as a result of the change since HMGP funds for this year were on hold until additional funds were made available through a supplemental to the disaster relief fund. However, the program has literally been cut in half and that significantly reduces mitigation activities after a disaster, when the opportunity is most ripe for participation. Just imagine the opportunities that will be lost in the Mid-Atlantic states in the aftermath of the hurricane because of the formula change.

NEMA calls on Congress to maximize the benefits of both HMGP and predisaster mitigation. NEMA predisaster mitigation, but maintains that HMGP should be retained as a separate and fully funded post-disaster program. We need both.

CONCLUSION

As we work to implement a new federal Department of Homeland Security, we must not forget about the all-hazards approach to emergency management and the role it plays in preventing our nation from losing focus on the daily perils that we face in addition to new threats.

Whether it is a flood in Ohio, a hurricane in North Carolina, or tornadoes in Kansas, states need a federal commitment to recognize that each state and local government has unique disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery needs that require flexible, predictable, and adequate funding assistance that is coordinated with the state emergency management plan. I thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of NEMA and welcome any questions that you might have. Only through a partnership of federal, state, and local governments, can we prevent the loss of lives and property as a result of all disasters – regardless of cause. Thank you for your consideration and partnership.