Cochran’s disaster recovery bill heads to White House

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate has approved legislation that includes provisions coauthored by U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) to improve the ability of the federal government to help states and communities recover from major disasters.

The provisions, authored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Cochran, are part of the disaster supplemental appropriations package (HR.152) approved by the Senate to address Hurricane Sandy recovery needs in the Northeast. It passed 62-36. With Senate passage, the legislation will now be sent to the White House for the President’s consideration.

“The goal of this legislation is to remove bureaucratic obstacles that make disaster recovery more expensive and time consuming for everyone. Disasters like Hurricane Katrina have taught us valuable lessons, and it is my expectation that these reforms will improve response and recovery activities for Hurricane Sandy and future disasters,” Cochran said.

Based on the Landrieu-Cochran Disaster Recovery Act (S.1630) from the last Congress, the provisions will reform the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. These legislative provisions build on recommendations received from various federal, state and local emergency organizations following Katrina and other recent disasters.

The following are among the provisions included in HR.152 to make disaster recovery more fair, efficient and effective:

  • • Expands access to the independent arbitration panels put in place by Landrieu and Cochran for Hurricane Katrina.  Current practice forces communities to settle disputes with the government by appealing FEMA decisions to FEMA itself.
  • • Reduces costs and removes bureaucratic hurdles by allowing local communities to voluntarily agree with FEMA on a binding reasonable cost to repair a facility shortly after a disaster rather than expending time and resources for years after the repair to amend the project and litigate a final reimbursable amount.
  • • Reduces costs and removes bureaucratic red tape by allowing communities to group similar structures together, and also by allowing a small portion of funding for projects to be provided up front so that rebuilding can begin as soon as possible.
  • • Encourages agencies to develop unified environmental and historic preservation review procedures for disasters rather than the current practice of requiring duplicative reviews from each agency for projects receiving assistance from multiple sources.
  • • Allows reimbursement for overtime wages paid to local government employees for debris removal rather than requiring that communities only enter into expensive contracts with outside entities.
  • Allows reimbursement for the expedient repair of rental units when doing so is more cost effective and efficient than providing temporary housing like trailers.
  • • Provides incentives to local communities to remove debris in a timely and cost-effective manner.
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