House Committee Hearing Reveals Bipartisan Support for Directing Disaster Mitigation Funds to Communities in Need

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing, “Disaster Mitigation: Reviewing the Effectiveness and Costs of FEMA’s Resilience Programs,” on May 1. The primary witness was Deputy Administrator Victoria Salinas of FEMA’s Resilience Office. The hearing examined the costs and benefits of FEMA’s many disaster mitigation programs and revealed bipartisan support for directing disaster mitigation funds to those communities most in need. View a recording of the hearing and witness testimony here.

“FEMA’s mission is helping people before, during, and after disasters, and our agency is spearheading efforts to bolster communities’ ability to understand, and fulfill, their roles related to increasing their own local disaster resilience,” said Deputy Administrator Salinas in her opening statement. “Improved resilience saves lives; results in less complex disaster recoveries; and helps break the cycle of disaster damage, rebuilding, and repeated damage. But, if we, as a Nation, are going to help prepare our communities for a future in which they continue to be tested by hazards, then we need to invest in these communities before a disaster strikes.” Deputy Administrator Salinas emphasized that all of FEMA’s mitigation programs are oversubscribed, a clear sign that states and localities want to mitigate their risk in the face of increasing extreme weather. To meet this challenge, she urged Congress to invest equitably in mitigation.

Members of the committee highlighted concerns about how FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program (BRIC) distributes competitive grants. The members also emphasized that these problems are not unique to BRIC but impact other FEMA’s mitigation programs. Many of FEMA’s mitigation programs favor larger, wealthier states and localities, as these jurisdictions have greater capacity and resources to acquire funding. Members and Deputy Administrator Salinas expressed hope that the problem might be remedied following passage of the “Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act,” which establishes resilience zones that include the most at-risk and in-need communities in all states and territories. By creating such zones, FEMA hopes to better direct assistance and resources to these areas.

Several members and Deputy Administrator Salinas discussed the economic benefit of investing in mitigation before disaster strikes. Research suggests that for every dollar invested in mitigation, 13 dollars are saved. Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) highlighted that it is much harder to measure the impacts of potential disasters that were avoided because of mitigation efforts rather than it is to measure the impacts of actual disasters that do take place because mitigation efforts were not in place.

Many committee members discussed the need to channel FEMA money to states and localities as quickly as possible. Often, lags exist between when a state or locality is awarded funding and when it receives that funding. These lags can be especially burdensome for small states and localities in need of critical funding.

View a recording of the hearing and witness’ testimony here.