November 1, 2021 3:30 PM, EDT

House Transportation Panel Approves FEMA Recovery Bills

Louisiana bridge damageA barge that was swept by Hurricane Ida's winds damaged a bridge that divides Lafitte, La., and Jean Lafitte, La. (David J. Phillip/AP)

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Two bills designed to facilitate recovery efforts for communities and commercial corridors hard-hit by natural disasters were recently approved by the transportation committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Small Project Efficient and Effective Disaster (or SPEED) Recovery Act, sponsored by the Transportation and Infrastructure panel’s leadership, would seek to expedite disaster recovery efforts, primarily for small rural communities.

Specifically, the legislation would seek to streamline the recovery process as well as minimize administrative procedures.

HR-5641 by Transport Topics

The panel also approved the Resilient Assistance for Mitigation for Environmentally Resilient Infrastructure and Construction by Americans (or AMERICA) Act. The bill, also introduced by the committee’s leadership, would seek to enhance mitigation and resilience provisions under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Of note, it would aim to enhance the post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Resilient infrastructure provisions would include “implementing technologies to improve infrastructure monitoring and distribution for the purpose of reducing risk and avoiding future disaster impacts,” according to the bill.

“As climate change continues to drive more frequent and severe extreme weather events, communities are increasingly in need of additional tools to help them rebuild and recover quickly,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), on Oct. 27. “They can’t go it alone; the federal government must step up. That’s why our committee approved two important pieces of bipartisan legislation, the Resilient AMERICA Act and the SPEED Recovery Act, that will help communities of all sizes rebuild and strengthen FEMA’s disaster mitigation and resiliency programs.”

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the panel’s ranking member, applauded the legislation. As he put it, “We made major strides to ensure our communities are better prepared to face disasters and to eliminate the unnecessary hurdles that keep those communities from rebuilding as soon as possible after a disaster hits. Among the bipartisan bills we passed today, my bill, the SPEED Recovery Act and the Resilient AMERICA Act, which I co-introduced, will directly address many of the concerns expressed by local officials in my district and across the country on how to improve our disaster mitigation and recovery efforts, including in small and rural communities.”

Graves continued, “I hope this legislation will move forward swiftly, so we can begin our work toward more effective damage prevention and more efficient response efforts when major disasters strike.”

The SPEED Recovery Act garnered endorsements from stakeholders, such as the International Association of Emergency Managers, the National Emergency Management Association and Big City Emergency Managers, the measure’s sponsors noted.

Deanne Criswell


Graves shared a statement from the groups: “This type of modernization to disaster response and recovery programs will allow us as emergency managers to more swiftly move projects for disaster survivors and expedite the road toward recovery. As we work individually and with one another to build resilience nationwide, tools such as the SPEED Recovery Act will simplify and streamline FEMA programs when survivors need them most.”

Both measures advanced to the floor of the chamber.

Last month, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell told lawmakers that emergency preparedness plans must adapt to future threats linked to climate change. This was largely in part because climate change is being attributed to fueling massive weather-related events that destroy commercial and passenger mobility corridors.

“Climate change affects every single American. It is the biggest crisis facing our nation, and it is making natural disasters more frequent, more intense and more destructive. Mitigating the effects of climate change is one of my top priorities for FEMA,” Criswell told a House panel during a hearing about Hurricane Ida and FEMA’s response. “Hurricane Ida has demonstrated the challenges presented by our changing climate, the benefits of mitigation investments and the importance of equity in our response and recovery.”