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Ranking Member Katko Statement from Hearing on Vulnerable Populations During Disasters

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Ranking Member John Katko (R-NY) from today’s Subcommittee hearing entitled, “Experiences of Vulnerable Populations During Disaster”:

I would like to begin by bringing specific attention to important work that is being done in my district to support vulnerable populations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  Organizations like Vera House, ACCESS CNY, the Foodbank of Central New York, and so many others are working hard to maintain services in our community during this disaster.

These organizations provide critical services to vulnerable members of our community, including our seniors, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, individuals with disabilities, and families struggling with mental health issues.

To provide a snapshot of the historic challenges these organizations face, the Foodbank of Central New York saw a 20% increase in households utilizing their services in the month of March.  This translates to the distribution of 1.9 million pounds of food – 500,000 additional pounds compared to the Foodbank’s typical monthly distribution. 

This increased demand persists and is indicative of the unprecedented nature of this crisis.  Unfortunately, these conditions are being felt across the United States.

Americans are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as flooding, storms, and wildfires across the country.  In many cases, these challenges are on top of ongoing recovery efforts from prior disasters.

In all of this, it is critically important that all communities are prepared for and can recover from disasters.

To be successful, lawmakers must work to plan for and address the needs of the most vulnerable among us.  These efforts are not only essential to saving lives, but to helping impacted areas put the pieces back together quickly.

To this end, Congress has enacted significant reforms over the years – including the Post-Katrina Act, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, and more recently the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA).  Each of these bills and others included provisions intended to help the most vulnerable.

In DRRA, for example, we ensured those with disabilities could be eligible for additional assistance to ensure their repaired homes are accessible, we expanded FEMA’s flexibility for temporary housing solutions, and we clarified eligibility for food banks.  We also worked to update and improve the nation’s public alerting system – IPAWS – to ensure capabilities are in place to reach persons with disabilities and those with limited English proficiency.  And, we continue to examine ways where FEMA’s process can be simplified and streamlined to reduce administrative hurdles for eligible applicants.

Ultimately, we must ensure our emergency management system works for everyone.

Today, I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on what is working and where we still need improvement.

I also want to welcome Mr. Garcia of California to our subcommittee and look forward to working with him on these and other issues.

Click here for more information, including witness testimony.

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