WASHINGTON -- Passage of legislation that fixes the Duplication of Benefits provision and addresses other issues marked "a great day for South Louisiana and for the entire nation," Congressman Garret Graves (R-District 6) said Wednesday.
Graves's legislation as part of House Resolution 302 cleared its final legislative hurdle when the U.S. Senate passed the bill on Wednesday. It now awaits the President Donald Trump's signature to become law.
Graves rallied for the legislation in the House along with Cedric Richmond, the Democratic Congressman from District 2. U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy led the push across the hall at the nation's capitol.
"This is one of the most significant disaster recovery and preparedness bills to pass Congress in decades, and we will be a more resilient country because of it," Graves said. "For two years, we fought and fought to fix duplication of benefits for flood victims -- passing it through the House three separate times.
"Persistence finally paid off, and our flood victims are going to get the relief they deserve," he said.
The law will finally enable Capitol Hill to put into practice the lessons learned from our August 2016 flood, recent hurricanes and other events across the nation.
:As we start to take the proactive approach to disasters that this law calls for, American communities will start to be stronger and safer -- and American taxpayers will save money," Graves said. "This new law is what the rest of the country would simply call "common sense."
DRRA includes numerous reforms that Congressman Graves wrote and worked to advance through Congress for nearly two years. Graves’ provisions will improve federal disaster recovery and response and will increase the government’s focus on pre-disaster mitigation – actions taken before disaster strikes that will lessen future impacts, reduce disaster costs, help speed recovery, and prevent loss of life. Major provisions authored by Rep. Graves include:
Section 1210 (a) Graves’ duplication of benefits fix – an elimination of the flawed “duplication of benefits” policy that prevents Louisiana flood survivors from gaining access to Restore Louisiana grants.
Section 1207 Graves’ solution for flooded schools – fixes a flawed interpretation of current law that has resulted in tens of millions in additional costs to flooded schools, delaying their ability to come back online, teach our students and perform their fundamental role in communities. The Graves amendment imposed a one-penalty-per-facility limit as Congress intended.
Section 1212 Graves’ provision to deliver assistance to survivors with disabilities –extends FEMA assistance to repair or replace damaged accessibility features for individuals with disabilities. During the August 2016 flood, Congressman Graves’ office worked closely with the autistic community and Trach Mommas of Louisiana to address their specific disaster needs. This provision addresses a number of problems identified in those efforts.
Section 1211 Graves’ solution for MHU’s and temporary housing – allows state and local governments to provide post-disaster, temporary housing at a cost-savings compared to FEMA housing. Current law prohibits FEMA from reimbursing local governments for the cost of providing a housing solution for those who are displaced after a disaster, which caused significant headache for the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Department and others after the 2016 flood. Reforms also include improving the shelter at home model to ensure that it compliments long-term rebuilding of homes and communities.
Section 1209 Graves’ I-12 “Wall” solution – requires FEMA to collaborate with the Federal Highway Administration to develop policy on the design, construction and repair of evacuations routes like I-12 in Baton Rouge and Livingston Parish.
Other Graves-written provisions include:
Section 1210 (b) Graves’ flood mitigation streamlining – clarifies the flexibility to states and local governments to apply flood mitigation dollars toward federally authorized projects, like the Comite River Diversion Canal.
Sections 1234 and 1235 Graves’ program to build back faster and smarter – allows rebuilding and recovery efforts to include resilient construction to help prevent repetitive losses and to prepare for future disasters – ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. This provision provides additional funding to address resilience projects (i.e. flood control, hurricane protection, elevating structures, etc.) before floods and hurricanes strike. This proactive shift will help to complete stalled projects and advance federal-state-local partnerships in preventing disaster losses and the loss of life.
Sections 1214 and 1227 Graves’ inclusion of food banks and other long-term recovery groups for public assistance – requires FEMA to more closely collaborate with food banks like the Greater Baton Rouge Area Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul, and Long-term Recovery Groups like Rebuild Louisiana, Samaritan’s Purse, and others. This provision also makes food banks eligible for FEMA repair assistance.
Section 1219 Graves’ arbitration provision for disaster victims – creates a fair and unbiased process for entities to settle claim disputes with FEMA through an independent board experienced with settling such disagreements. FEMA should not be able to determine whether its own denials are justified.
Section 1228 Graves’ submerged roads provisions – requires FEMA to work with the Federal Highway Administration to develop a consistent, reliable, reasonable policy to cover damages to our roadways.
Section 1240 Graves’ insurance provision – Katrina survivors receiving federal assistance are required to obtain and maintain flood insurance. FEMA requires Louisiana to act as the flood insurance police for those receiving this assistance – a job clearly outside the bounds of state responsibility – or FEMA will penalize the state for failing to enforce. The Graves "proof of insurance" maintains a reasonable insurance requirement while removing the bureaucratic, legacy Katrina mandate. Added at the state’s request, the amendment could save the state nearly $100 million in FEMA reimbursements.
Section 1218 Graves’ pets and service animals provision – requires the Department of Homeland Security to engage veterinary schools, like the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, to develop emergency teams to launch with first responders during disasters. These specialized teams will help to train emergency managers and work to take care of service animals and others affected by disasters. In many cases, we saw animals abandoned in the 2016 floods.
Section 1223 Graves’ elimination of duplicative applications – requires FEMA and other agencies to work to implement a streamlined process for disaster victims to provide information one time to a federal agency rather than having to apply multiple times to multiple agencies for disaster assistance.
Graves’ FEMA transparency provision – requires FEMA to establish an online system that discloses disaster costs, contracts and other activities to help improve accountability and prevent fraud.
Other key provisions to improve disaster policy include:
Section 1215 Allows for forgiveness of debts when FEMA inappropriately provides excess assistance to a disaster victim as a result of an error made by FEMA.
Section 1217 Provides for the economic recovery of disaster-impacted areas.
Section 1220 Authorizes a report to identify ways to streamline environmental and historic preservation approvals during disasters.
This new law is the largest package of reforms to FEMA since the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006.
"Most importantly, flood victims will finally get the relief they deserve," Graves said.