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Webster Statement from Hearing on Recovery Update: Status of FEMA Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands 5 Years After Hurricanes Irma & Maria

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Ranking Member Daniel Webster (R-FL) from today’s hearing entitled, Recovery Update: Status of FEMA Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands 5 Years After Hurricanes Irma and Maria”:

Thank you, Chair Titus, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

It has been 5 years since hurricanes Maria and Irma hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on what the recovery process has looked like, what successes and challenges they have faced, and lessons learned that we could apply across disaster recovery efforts. This is a unique opportunity to examine how our efforts to cut red tape and streamline processes have been implemented by FEMA.

Time is money – the longer it takes communities to rebuild, the higher the costs to both those communities and to the federal taxpayer.

At times it seems after Congress removes red tape, more red tape is created by FEMA, and we simply cannot afford to continue doing things the same way and expect different results. For example, in the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, we created section 428 of the Stafford Act intended to give States a choice for a streamlined, faster process or to use the old, paperwork-intensive process for rebuilding infrastructure. 428 authority was intended to speed up the process by basing assistance on certified cost estimates.

The idea was to reduce costs by shortening the rebuilding time, cutting administrative costs, and arriving faster at a more definitive dollar amount for a project. Yet, by many accounts the 428 process is looking more like the old, cumbersome process, removing any incentives to use it. 428 authority and similar reforms have been key tools in the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Understanding how these reforms are working – or not working – will help us know what action to take. A complicated recovery process not only hurts communities hit by disaster, it also increases costs to the taxpayer, especially given the impact high inflation rates are having on the costs of materials and labor.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses today.

Thank you, Chair Titus. I yield back.

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