The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management held a hearing, “FEMA: The Current State of Disaster Readiness, Response, and Recovery,” on September 19. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell testified on behalf of the agency and responded to questions about agency funding allocations, risk ratings, and equity. Supplemental funding for the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) was at the top of the agenda, with members repeatedly questioning Administrator Criswell about prior fund distributions amid significant shortages.
Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) opened the hearing alongside Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-PA), who suggested that FEMA funds had been misappropriated to “advance partisan policy objectives,” specifically regarding the border crisis and the war in Ukraine. Subcommittee Ranking Member Dina Titus (D-NV) and Committee Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-WA) also gave opening remarks, addressing the need for equity and mitigation in disaster response and emphasizing the impact of climate change on disaster response.
In her statement, Criswell outlined her agency’s response, recovery, and mitigation objectives but acknowledged that the “mission at FEMA has become more challenging and complex,” in part due to the increasing frequency of disasters. Criswell reiterated the need to provide the Disaster Relief Fund with $16 billion in funds and urged Congress to approve the Biden administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget and its supplemental requests as soon as possible.
Following Criswell’s testimony, Chairman Graves accused the agency of failing to reimburse organizations and of “diverting funds from fire mitigation to renewable energy,” specifically net-zero policies. Chairman Graves’s line of questioning was continued by Ranking Member Titus, who asked Criswell about cuts to the budgets of the National Weather Services and Assistance to Firefighters Grants program. Criswell emphasized her support for the bipartisan “Disaster Survivor Preparedness Act” and spoke of supporting the National Weather Services and the Firefighters Grants program as critical to FEMA’s mission.
Criswell also faced questions about Risk Rating 2.0, a new system for measuring flood risk for the purposes of the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program, from two Louisiana members: Representatives Garret Graves (R-LA) and Troy Carter (D-LA). Representatives Graves attacked Criswell for what he called a “lack of transparency” over a pricing methodology that considers specific characteristics of a building to provide a more individualized flood insurance rate. Meanwhile, Representative Jenniffer González (R-PR) asked Criswell for updates on reconstruction projects in Puerto Rico under the agency’s jurisdiction that have encountered delays and financing problems.
Criswell warned that a lack of funding for the Disaster Relief Fund in particular would impact smaller jurisdictions, as well as pre-disaster mitigation and resilience projects. She repeatedly underscored the importance of mitigation, reminding the Subcommittee that natural hazard mitigation saves $6 on average for every $1 spent on federal mitigation grants, according to an analysis by the National Institute of Building Sciences.
The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) led by NLIHC stands behind Criswell’s call for the quick passage of an emergency disaster supplemental appropriations bill to fund ongoing disaster operations and disaster recovery for current and future 2023 disasters.
Watch a recording of the hearing at: https://bit.ly/3PwDGwG