DRRA Signed into Law, Authorizes New Resources for Mitigation and Disaster Recovery
The increasing intensity, frequency, and cost of natural disasters in the past several years has begun to change thinking in Washington and around the country on how to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. Reflecting this change, earlier this month, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), which made a series of reforms that takes a step in the right direction by authorizing new resources for pre-disaster mitigation, strengthens building and development code enforcement, and articulates new eligible mitigation activities that can protect communities from fire and wind hazards.
Disasters in 2017 alone caused about $306 billion in damage, and the federal government has spent over $130 billion to help states and communities recover from 2017’s natural disasters, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria as well as wildfires in the west. With these disasters come widespread dislocation, tremendous economic costs, and, too often, loss of life. Given the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, the costs of disasters will inevitably rise without significant planning and investment in pre-disaster mitigation.
Key Provisions in DRRA
- The new law allows the President to set-aside up to six percent of the amount appropriated to FEMA’s disaster relief fund for pre-disaster mitigation for public infrastructure.
- Given recent disaster relief funding, the set-aside could be expected to increase federal spending on pre-disaster mitigation to $800 million-$1 billion annually. FEMA has unofficially indicated that if the set-aside had been in effect before 2017 disasters, around $2 billion could have been made available for mitigation.
- States and tribal governments that have received a major disaster declaration in the past seven years will be eligible to competitively apply for these grants. For context, all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands have received major disaster declarations in the past seven years and would be eligible to apply for these mitigation funds.
- FEMA has indicated that it should be ready to administer the competitive grant process by 2020.
Updating and Enforcing Building Codes
- The new law permits FEMA to provide states and local governments with assistance for building code and floodplain management ordinance administration and enforcement.
- The bill specifically would permit federal funds to be used to pay wages for extra hires to facilitate the implementation and enforcement of adopted building codes.
- FEMA is also authorized to consider whether a state has implemented up-to-date building codes in its consideration of competitive pre-disaster mitigation awards.
- FEMA is also now authorized to fund wildfire and windstorm hazard mitigation activities, including removing standing burned trees
Mitigation Saves Money in the Long Run
A federally-funded report from the National Institute of Building Science found that every $1 spent on hazard mitigation can save the nation $6 in future disaster recovery and rebuilding costs. A 2017 report spearheaded by Enterprise and funded by 100 Resilient Cities Safer and Stronger Cities: Strategies for Advocating for Federal Resilience Policy urged Congress to strengthen FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program and noted that the program has bipartisan support for being cost-effective, generating long-term savings, and reducing loss of life and property.
Mitigation reduces the costly cycle of ‘damage and repair,’ in which federal agencies like FEMA provide funds for communities and homeowners to rebuild in place following disasters, only for these communities to flood and need support again. Strategic rebuilding and mitigation reduce risk by making communities better prepared for the inevitable.
Disaster Resilience and Climate Equity
Natural disasters in 2018, including Hurricanes Florence and Michael along with wildfires in the west, have reinforced that the time to prepare for a changing climate is now. While coordinated disaster relief and recovery efforts by federal agencies are needed more than ever, it is essential that the federal government supports states and communities with pre-disaster mitigation funds so that when disasters inevitably arrive, the harm caused and cost incurred are not as great.
Disasters also are more likely to cause the most harm in low-income communities and communities of color, who are often hit hardest and are often the last to recover. In the United States, low-income households are more likely to live in homes that are less resilient to floods, fires, and wind, and are more likely to live in areas with greater hazard risks. Considering that only around 4 in 10 Americans have $1,000 in savings to rely on in emergencies, even fewer have the resources needed to recover from a natural disaster in which they lose their homes and belongings.
Enterprise will continue to advocate for disaster recovery and hazard mitigation funds are invested equitably and are directed towards households and communities that need help the most.
HUD Disaster Recovery Funds for 2018 Disasters
Added on to the bill was a $1.68 billion supplemental appropriation for the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program at HUD. These funds are intended to be a down payment on a larger disaster recovery package planned for after the mid-term election. Enterprise is working with lawmakers to ensure that the next disaster package directs HUD to require grantees to distribute funds equitably to low and moderate-income communities and to rebuild stronger and more resilient to future disasters.
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