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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Analysis of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013

Jared T. Brown
Analyst in Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy

Francis X. McCarthy
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy

Edward C. Liu
Legislative Attorney

Hurricane Sandy caused extensive human suffering and damage to public and private property. In response to this catastrophic event, Congress considered legislation to provide supplemental appropriations to federal disaster assistance programs. In addition, Congress considered revisions to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act, P.L. 93- 288 as amended), which is the primary source of authorities for disaster assistance programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As a result, Congress passed the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, which was included as Division B of the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-2). Division A of P.L. 113-2 provided a $50.7 billion package of disaster assistance largely focused on responding to Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, Congress increased the National Flood Insurance Program’s borrowing authority by $9.7 billion (from $20.725 billion to $30.425 billion) (P.L. 113-1). Both of these supplemental relief law are discussed separately in CRS Report R42869, FY2013 Supplemental Funding for Disaster Relief.

This report analyzes the provisions of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. In general, these provisions amend the Stafford Act with a stated goal of improving the efficiency and quality of disaster assistance provided by FEMA. Briefly, the amendments to the Stafford Act include:

  • Establishing a new set of alternative procedures for administering the Public Assistance Program, which provides assistance for debris removal and the repair and restoration of eligible facilities (Section 1102 of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013); 
  • Authorizing FEMA to enter into agreements with private owners of multi-family rental properties to expand post-disaster housing resources (Section 1103); 
  • Revising the administration of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, to include a possible advancement of 25% of grant funds (Section 1104); 
  • Directing the establishment of alternative dispute resolution procedures (including binding arbitration), building on FEMA’s current appeals process, to resolve federal and state disagreements on costs and eligibility questions (Section 1105); 
  • Directing the creation of a joint process for environmental and historical review for disaster recovery projects with the goal of increasing the speed of the process (Section 1106); 
  • Directing FEMA to study, and report to Congress, whether it is appropriate to increase the dollar size of “small projects” eligible for simplified procedures (Section 1107); 
  • Including child care as an eligible expense under the “other needs assistance” provided in certain disasters (Section 1108(a)); 
  • Specifically authorizing the reimbursement of the base wages of government employees providing emergency work under certain circumstances (Section 1108(b)); 
  • Directing FEMA to update the factors considered when assessing the need for Individual Assistance in the declaration process (Section 1109);
  • Authorizing the chief executive of a tribal government to directly request disaster or emergency declarations from the President, much as a governor can for a state (Section 1110); and 
  • Directing FEMA to create a comprehensive national strategy for reducing the cost of future disasters (Section 1111). 
Prospectively, the changes in law apply to disasters declared on or after the date of enactment, January 29, 2013. Further, support can be found in the text and legislative history of the bill for applying at least some of these amendments retrospectively to Hurricane Sandy-related disaster declarations. However, it is less clear whether, and to what extent, some of these revisions will apply to disasters declared before Hurricane Sandy.

Date of Report: March 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 31
Order Number: R42991
Price: $29.95

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