Mr. Speaker, I am proud to sponsor H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act. It is a bipartisan bill that cuts red tape and helps expedite disaster recovery efforts, especially in small and rural areas that we have throughout the country.
This legislation updates the threshold of what FEMA considers a small project. It updates it to $1 million under the Stafford Act; $1 million under the Stafford Act. This is the first statutory adjustment under the Stafford Act for inflation and rising repair costs in nearly three decades.
Historically, small projects have accounted for about 95 percent of all the recovery projects, but the prolonged failure to increase the cost threshold now means that 25 percent of these projects no longer qualify as small projects. That puts a huge burden on small rural communities that simply don't have the same kind of resources to deal with the bureaucracy at FEMA. For places like Craig, Missouri, or Brunswick, Missouri, both of which got hammered by the flood of 2019, it has meant more delays and headaches just trying to get the help that they need to recover and to rebuild.
Updating the small project threshold is going to allow these communities to have more control over their disaster recovery efforts and to allow FEMA to focus more of their time and resources on larger and much more complex projects, which represent 90 percent of all disaster costs.
After hearing directly from the communities in my district about the paperwork burdens and the increasing denials over technicalities, my hope is that this commonsense adjustment to the small project threshold is going to improve the process and speed up recoveries for many, many of our communities. We have also received a lot of support for this bill from emergency managers themselves.
Mr. Speaker, I include in the Record a joint letter of support from the National Emergency Management Association, the Big City Emergency Managers, and the International Association of Emergency Managers. IAEM, NEMA, BCEM, September 10, 2021. Hon. Dina Titus, Chairwoman, Hon. Daniel Webster, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Chairwoman Titus and Ranking Member Webster: On behalf of the three associations representing state and local emergency management nationwide, we wish to convey our support for the efforts of Representative Graves of Missouri to introduce the Small Project Efficient and Effective Disaster (SPEED) Recovery Act.
When managing a disaster under the Stafford Act with assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), projects falling below a certain threshold are considered ``small.'' While this threshold is adjusted annually for inflation, the Fiscal Year 2020 level was a mere $131,000. These small projects require less administrative burden at the local, state, and federal levels which means their approval and execution time is significantly faster than larger projects. The SPEED Recovery Act will raise this threshold to $1,000,000, thereby significantly increasing the number of projects that can be expedited during the recovery to a disaster.
This type of modernization to disaster response and recovery programs will allow us as emergency managers to more swiftly move projects for disaster survivors and expedite the road toward recovery. As we work individually and with one another to build resilience nationwide, tools such as the SPEED Recovery Act will simplify and streamline FEMA programs when survivors need them most.
We thank Representative Graves for his foresight on this issue and appreciate your leadership in ensuring the SPEED Recovery Act sees action in your subcommittee and throughout the legislative process. Please contact NEMA Deputy Director Matt Cowles, IAEM Director of Government Affairs Thad Huguley or BCEM Executive Director Ron Prater if we can be of further assistance. Sincerely, Sima Merick,
NEMA President. Judson Freed,
CEM, IAEM-USA President. Mark Sloan,
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Mr. GRAVES of Missouri.
Miss GONZALEZ-COLON. Mr. Speaker, I thank Ranking Member Graves for yielding time.
Today, I rise in support of H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act, which is bipartisan legislation introduced by Ranking Member Graves with the support of Chairman DeFazio, Chair Titus, and Ranking Member Webster.
This bill aims toward updating disaster recovery procedures. I can talk about that at length.
During Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria, many municipalities on the island faced the situation where, because of the rising costs of materials and labor, relatively simple projects such as a repair to a street or a minor building exceeded the current threshold for what is defined as a small project.
That threshold today is around $123,000, which really only covers some minor work. This means that a lot of the work for which municipalities may have had the resources to cover their non-Federal share to start and finish promptly instead had to go through the full procedural chain for major projects to qualify for FEMA reimbursement.
Those processes themselves have taken longer than expected. It took almost 4 years in the case of Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricanes for those municipalities, FEMA, and the Puerto Rico Recovery Office to be able to agree just on the measures to make the processes faster.
That is years in which the people wondered when they were going to see the promised reconstruction. When a community does not see at least small things being taken care of, that weakens our communities and promotes displacement.
Increasing the threshold to $1 million, including adjustments for inflation, would allow more recovery projects to proceed under simplified procedures, reduce administrative burdens, and provide more certainty for all. This is a major step, and that is the reason I am supporting this bill.
Most disaster claims are on a small, local scale where there is no need to navigate the same procedures over larger, more complex projects and tie up the resources of FEMA and other agencies just looking at those papers. Although FEMA and other agencies have been open to using the administrative flexibility the law provides, in many real-world incidents, that is not enough.
These updates make the Stafford Act language match the realities of construction costs in our States, territories, and communities, which FEMA and the local authorities can then use in order to facilitate approval of the small projects.
Believe me, this is the biggest burden we have in the case of Puerto Rico. Four years after the hurricanes, we are still dealing with this.
Many heads of agencies, Cabinet members, and administrative positions from FEMA and the rest of the Federal agencies still travel to the island to see how they can do this faster, and it is not just red tape. It is amending this kind of language that will provide for those projects to be sped up.
I support this commonsense bipartisan legislation and urge all Members to support it, and I thank the ranking member for doing this.
Mr. Speaker, H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act, is a commonsense, bipartisan bill that is going to help many small and rural communities respond to and recover from disasters with less delay and much less bureaucracy.
Mr. Speaker, I urge support of this very important piece of legislation. I yield back the balance of my time.
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