Davis Provision to Bring Fairness to Disaster Declaration Process Passes House
Provision Included in Larger FEMA Reform Bill
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) today announced that his provision to bring fairness to the federal disaster declaration process passed the House with unanimous support. His provision, included in H.R. 1471, the FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act, requires FEMA to give greater weight and consideration to the localized impact of a disaster when determining the need for federal assistance.
“The recent flooding caused road closures, evacuations, power outages, several fatalities, and more than $15 million in damages throughout 21 counties, yet we still did not meet FEMA’s arbitrary formula,” said Davis. “This formula clearly punishes small communities in large states like Illinois. Time and time again we’ve seen Illinois get denied assistance while neighboring states impacted by the same storm are approved. By requiring FEMA to place more emphasis on the localized impact of a disaster, we can help ensure small communities in larger states like Illinois receive the fair consideration they deserve.”
Davis spoke in support of his provision and H.R. 1471 on the House floor today. Click here to view.
Davis began to push for this reform after storms in 2013 destroyed communities in Gifford and Washington and the state of Illinois was denied public assistance. Shortly after, he introduced the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act and successfully included similar language in H.R. 1471, which passed unanimously out of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last April. Additionally, this provision has been supported by U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Mike Bost (R-Ill.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.), and Bill Foster (D-Ill.).
Text of Davis’ speech reads as follows:
Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 1741, the FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015.
Mr. Speaker, FEMA’s disaster declaration process is broken. You don’t need to look any further than the state of Illinois to see how FEMA’s aid formula is failing the hardworking families of this country, because it simply doesn’t put all communities on a level playing field. In 2012, Harrisburg in Southern Illinois was denied federal assistance following tornadoes that swept across the Midwest, while Missouri and Kentucky received it. And recently, towns like Gifford and Washington in Central Illinois were denied, as well.
FEMA currently takes into account several factors when determining the need for Public and Individual Assistance. However, there is currently no standard to determine which factor is more important than another, which leads to a highly subjective and uncertain process that leaves states and communities in limbo for weeks as their application is considered.
I introduced the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act to provide more certainty to states and small communities impacted by disasters by giving FEMA a clearer, more substantive formula when evaluating disaster areas. I was proud to work with several of my colleagues in the Illinois delegation in introducing this legislation, including John Shimkus, Mike Bost, Adam Kinzinger and Cheri Bustos. I also appreciate the support my Illinois colleagues Darin LaHood and Bill Foster on this bill.
The Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act assigns a specific weight to each of the factors already used by FEMA, and adds other economic factors for the agency to consider when determining whether or not a disaster area should receive federal assistance.
By working with the Transportation Committee last year when we marked up H.R. 1471, we were able to include important language based on my bill that requires the Administrator of FEMA, when making recommendations to the President regarding a major disaster declaration, to “give greater weight and consideration to severe localized impact”.
This is key in states like Illinois where a significant portion of the population is concentrated in a small geographical area. Because of the population density in the Chicago area, rural parts of the state like much of my District must meet an arbitrarily high threshold in order to qualify for a disaster declaration. Enacting this language into law will level the playing field, and help ensure rural areas are given a fair shake when disaster happens and help is needed.
Consideration of this important legislation is also very timely. Just three days ago, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner submitted a request to President Obama asking him to declare a major disaster for the State of Illinois, following the extensive damage done in late December and early January caused by severe storms and flooding in the central and southern parts of the state.
Much of this damage happened in my home Christian County, where four people tragically lost their lives after encountering flooded roadways. Sadly, two of the deceased, Bandon Mann and Devan Everett, were teenagers from my home town of Taylorville.
Certainly, no amount of resources can compensate for the loss of human life when disaster strikes. And yet these communities still need to rebuild. Preliminary Damage Assessments determined that communities in Illinois experienced uninsured losses and property damage exceeding $15 million dollars due to the storms and flooding. Unfortunately, that does not meet FEMA’s population-based threshold of $18.1 million.
Mr. Speaker, it’s just not right that states like Illinois, where a significant portion of the population is concentrated in a single area, can potentially be denied disaster relief because of an arbitrary formula developed by bureaucrats in concrete buildings in Washington.
That’s what makes this bill and my provision so important. It levels the playing field and tells rural America that when disaster strikes, we’re going to look out for you, too.
Mr. Speaker, I come from rural America. I know these people. These are not the type of people who expect help, who expect Washington to solve their problems. But we, as Members of Congress, and as Americans, have an obligation to commit that we will be there for them when they need us, and that we won’t let arbitrary formulas prevent that help from being delivered.
We need this bill. We need these reforms. It will make a difference.
I want to express my personal gratitude to Chairman Shuster and Subcommittee Chairman Lou Barletta for working with me to ensure this important provision was included. I urge a yes vote, and I yield back the balance of my time.