By Lucia Bragg
With a 96-3 vote in the Senate, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 and the Disaster Recovery Reform Act as one bill (HR 302) on Oct. 3.
President Donald Trump signed the package into law two days later. The new law includes what’s considered the most comprehensive disaster recovery reform package since Hurricane Katrina.
The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), as it was previously known as a standalone bill, passed by an overwhelming majority in the House in April 2018, and was deliberated on and revised by both the House and Senate. The DRRA, in part, increases the federal investment in pre-disaster mitigation, increases reimbursement caps for state and local governments on a range of disaster costs and allows state and local governments to administer housing assistance grants.
Consultation with State and Local Governments
In Section 1239, the law directs the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to revise and update the factors considered when evaluating a governor’s request for a major disaster declaration, including the way FEMA estimates the cost of major disaster assistance and the capacity of a jurisdiction to respond to disasters.
NCSL staff drafted language that requires consultation with state and local governments, included in this section of the law. It reads:
“In determining the capacity of a jurisdiction to respond to disasters, and prior to the issuance of such a rule, the Administrator shall engage in meaningful consultation with relevant representatives of state, regional, local, and Indian tribal government stakeholders.”
NCSL, in making its case for the inclusion of the language, asserted that no entity can know a state’s capacity to respond to a disaster better than state governments themselves. The inclusion of this language ensures that FEMA consider this important perspective before making changes to the way disaster assistance is calculated, based on such capacity.
This language reflects NCSL’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management policy, revised and passed by legislators on the Law, Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee at the 2018 NCSL Legislative Summit. NCSL issued a letter to the full Senate in July highlighting certain components of the legislation and advocating for its passage.
Additional sections of note within the law, that address disaster recovery reform, would:
- Allow states to use federal disaster assistance to directly administer temporary and permanent housing assistance for disaster victims. This ensures such funding is managed by state officials that are much closer to disaster-affected communities and more familiar with their state’s unique risk profile, infrastructure and grant recipients. (Section 1211)
- Amend 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. (Section 1215).
- Reauthorize federal funding for Emergency Management Planning Grants (EMPG) and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). (Section 1217)
- Allow 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. (Section 1221)
- Require the FEMA administrator to develop a plan to streamline information collection processes for grant applications and make the process less burdensome and time-consuming. (Section 1223)
- Direct FEMA to increase consideration of severe local impact when evaluating whether to recommend a major disaster declaration. (Section 1232)
- Establish the National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Mitigation Assistance Program, which would commit certain funding from the Disaster Relief Fund to pre-disaster mitigation efforts. It would allocate 6 percent 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 (Section 1234). Mitigation funding would also be provided for wildfire prevention (Section 1204).
- Require FEMA to coordinate emergency response plans with state, tribal and local governments. (Section 1236)
If you have any further questions on the Disaster Recovery Reform Act, please contact Lucia Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-624-3576. For questions on the FAA Reauthorization Act, please contact Ben Husch at email@example.com or 202-624-7779.
Lucia Bragg is a policy associate with NCSL's State-Federal Relations Division.