Landrieu Passes Priorities through Congress to Ensure La. Continues Disaster Recovery
Extends flood insurance program, provides fairness in FEMA recoupment
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., Chair of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, today announced that Congress passed year-end federal funding legislation that includes many of her priorities for disaster recovery in Louisiana. These include a provision ensuring fairness for disaster survivors who are facing recoupment of assistance payments due to government error, an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, and support for mitigation and retrofitting in areas hit by disasters, among other priorities. This legislation has already passed the House and now must be signed into law by the President.
Sen. Landrieu successfully pushed for fairness in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) efforts to recoup improper disaster assistance payments. Sen. Landrieu's provision in today's legislation allows the FEMA Administrator to waive a debt owed to the U.S. if the individual earns less than $90,000 and was given assistance because of an error on behalf of FEMA. Because Sen. Landrieu so strongly supports fighting fraud and wasteful government spending, she ensured that the Administrator is prohibited from waving the debt if the debt involves fraud.
"Many families facing recoupment are honest disaster survivors who experienced great tragedy and who never intended to misuse funds or take anything to which they were not entitled. It is simply unfair to make families pay large sums of money back to the government for someone else's mistake," Sen. Landrieu said. "This common sense provision is about fairness to disaster survivors and it is the right thing to do. This will allow many families to continue rebuilding without being forced to repay assistance they received from the government and used for legitimate disaster-related needs without any wrongdoing on their part."
FEMA is seeking to recover approximately $621 million paid out in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which represents 97 percent of the total money FEMA aims to recoup. FEMA was temporarily suspended from recouping benefits because a judge found that their process was lacking in fairness. Therefore many of these debts are more than five years old. In March 2011, FEMA announced that it would proceed with the collections after improving the process. Sen. Landrieu spoke out about the recoupment program at a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing earlier this year.
Today's legislation also extends the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) through May 31, 2012. Without action, the program was set to expire on December 16. Because federal law requires anyone purchasing property in a flood zone to have flood insurance in place before closing, the expiration of NFIP would have prevented countless home purchases and sales in Louisiana from moving forward. The Senate recently passed a similar extension that did not pass the House. Sen. Landrieu was able to include the extension in today's bill.
"It is critical that we extend the National Flood Insurance Program to prevent a delay in home sales throughout the Gulf Coast that would be detrimental to our local communities and regional economies," Sen. Landrieu said. "With this extension to the Flood Insurance Program, families can now move forward with plans to buy and sell their homes, driving economic activity throughout our region."
Other important priorities for Louisiana that Sen. Landrieu secured include:
• $155.5 million for the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium (NDPC), the same as FY 2011 and $48.5 million above the House bill - This funding could support $22 million for the LSU National Center for Biomedical Research and Counterterrorism to train first responders for WMD attacks. Since 2000, the NDPC has trained over 1.6 million first responders and responders in every State and U.S. territory have benefited from the professional training in chemical, biological, nuclear, and explosive weapons of mass destruction; infrastructure protection; transit; and natural hazards.
• Retrofitting facilities for sheltering - This legislation requires FEMA to issue guidance and provide technical assistance to states for retrofitting facilities for sheltering purposes and identify grant funding that could support such sheltering. This will help Louisiana in fulfilling its plan to retrofit buildings for sheltering citizens in their communities, instead of doing mass evacuations during a hurricane.• Small Business Administration (SBA) duplication of benefits and other disaster items - This legislation includes a provision that gives States flexibility to use FEMA hazard mitigation grant funding to reimburse homeowners for elevation work originally completed with a SBA loan. This provision provides equity of benefits among disaster survivors. With this authority, the State of Louisiana plans to reimburse 306 homeowners approximately $13.3 million for mitigation measures that were originally financed with SBA loans that would otherwise have to be repaid.•Unit Cost Guidance - FEMA is urged to reimburse verifiable costs incurred for mitigation work performed by homeowners that exceed amounts specified in the prevailing Unit Cost Guidance. The current Unit Cost Guidance does not take into account that many homeowners, who were proactive in building right after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, did not have proper guidance from government authorities in the early days of rebuilding and therefore, through no fault of their own, incurred costs that are not currently covered in the guidance that has been issued since.•Coast Guard Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) - This legislation includes $5 million for NAIS, including the deployment of a permanent system to Sector New Orleans. NAIS allows for the effective exchange of information between vessels, aircraft, and shore stations within all major US ports and waterways.