Today, the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee welcomed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell for a hearing on the agency’s disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. At the hearing, Subcommittee Republicans raised a number of issues related to FEMA programs and bureaucracy that are impacting their districts and the Nation.

Highlights from today’s hearing can be found below:

The Migrant Crisis and FEMA’s Shelter and Services Program

Subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry (R-PA): “On March 17th, an email of yours provided to the Committee in response to these oversight letters showed that you emailed Secretary Mayorkas that both you and FEMA’s Region 3 Administrator had discussed the current state of coordination based on her observations… On the following day, on March 18th, you received an email from the Secretary thanking you for supporting the FEMA Region 3 Administrator’s dedication to the border coordination with IMAT support for a 30-day period. Now, the IMAT teams are specialists, as I understand it, that deal with disasters. Does that mean you and the Secretary agree there’s a disaster on the border?...

“I guess by transposition then, if it’s not a disaster, and it’s to create this team, then we’re saying that apparently Secretary Mayorkas and [the] Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have what it needs, is not equipped to handle what’s happening on the southern border, because they’re calling on you. You’re resource-challenged by your admission. You even were concerned, per your email. Then in November you emailed the Secretary indicating that he had requested support again from your Region 3 Administrator on the border. And I would remind you that Region 3 covers Pennsylvania, and the district I am proud to represent, and I’m concerned about those folks that are paying the taxes for FEMA to support them. And to remind everyone that Region 3… had [11] major disaster declarations, not including COVID, during that period… How many personnel, how many people did FEMA send to the border and what was the duration, since I can’t find out from these emails?”

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY): “FEMA recently announced in June that FEMA was set to receive $100 million from the Shelter and Services Program to address the ever-growing migrant crisis. Since then, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the problem has only worsened, and recently [New York City] Mayor Adams – just last month – and I quote said, ‘This issue will destroy New York City.’ He claimed that agencies may have to slash up to 15 percent from their budgets… Has anyone from New York City been in contact with FEMA requesting additional funds to address the migrant crisis after already receiving $100 million?...

“We always ask ourselves, ‘Are we better off today than we were the last time we dealt with this issue?’ And I think it’s clear that Mayor Adams had no plan for being a sanctuary city. And when asked by FEMA, ‘What are your needs and what do you need from us?’ he doesn’t have an answer because there is no plan. So, obviously it’s concerning that New York City continues to face the significant challenges that it does. You never want to hear the mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world saying that we have an issue that we’re facing, that we can’t control, that is going to destroy our city. How is FEMA evaluating the difference between New York City and other cities and the intended purposes of this new program?”

Lack of Transparency in FEMA’s Risk Rating 2.0

Rep. Mike Ezell (R-MS): “To combat the effects of active flooding, several of these counties are actively engaging in resiliency projects. Accordingly, FEMA is planning to spend $3 billion this year on resiliency projects, in addition to several other agencies across the federal government. Specifically, Jackson County, which is my home county on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is relying on many of these programs to plan and build projects to improve drainage, enhance our shorelines, and protect our citizens from storms and flooding. Ideally, these investments will provide protection for properties and help lower flood insurance rates. However, because FEMA refuses to disclose the full algorithms used in Risk Rating 2.0, county leaders are unable to plan and target projects where they will have the greatest benefits to my constituents, including lowering their insurance costs.”

Wildfire Relief

Subcommittee Vice Chairwoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR): “In 2020, Oregon experienced its most devastating wildfire season on record – the Labor Day fires – which actually began in August and lasted until November. According to the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, wildfires burned over 1 million acres – about the area of Rhode Island – affected 20 counties, destroyed or damaged over 5,000 structures, and resulted in over $600 million in damage across the state. The city of Detroit in Marion County was especially devastated by the fires, and my office continues to work with the city to help that community recover… One specific area of frustration brought to my attention concerns Detroit’s application to obtain unobligated funds for a water treatment plant. This process continued, and has continued, for three years after the fires. Detroit dutifully completed their paperwork and met FEMA’s engineering requirements. However, high turnover at FEMA has forced the city to re-explain the application and re-justify each aspect of the project multiple times. The application is for $5.7 million. Completing the federal paperwork and meeting standards is hard enough, but how is it fair to require a small community to essentially recomplete it over and over again for three years?”

Duplication of Benefits

Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA): “Duplication of benefits drives me crazy because I watch our federal government be incredibly inefficient. We have resiliency programs, or mitigation programs, in FEMA, in [army] Corps of Engineers, in HUD, in Interior, at Department of Agriculture, in NOAA, in many, many others. We explicitly wrote a change in the law in DRRA [Disaster Recovery Reform Act] in 2018 that said that duplication of benefits with the Corps of Engineers programs and HMGP [FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program] does not exist – meaning you can pay for it through HMGP. Yet, I have watched where FEMA has refused and said that you could not provide HMGP funds through a Corps project that was in the 7,001 report – and I’ll make note, does not mean it’s funded. Yet, you’ve had the situation where Washington, D.C. has gotten funds for tree equity, whatever that is… Meanwhile, Portland has gotten funds through similar programs. So, why is it that if the Forest Service is going to fund urban tree planting, how come FEMA will fund it as well through BRIC [Building Resilient Infrastructure Communities]? Why isn’t that a duplication of benefits?”