By TCCRI Staff. Feb. 25, 2020
With the Senate Committee on Finance discussing how to remove barriers to effective utilization of federal disaster funding, the following is an extract from TCCRI's testimony to the committee. Click here to read the full testimony.
A fundamental problem that Texas and other states face with respect to making the disaster recovery process more efficient is that the federal government provides so much of the relevant funding. This creates two problems. First, it means that Texas must persuade the federal government to alter the rules and practices which Texas views as in need of amending. Second, it can give states an incentive to effectively delegate disaster management to the federal government. TCCRI makes the following recommendations to help make the disaster recovery process more efficient:
Make funds which FEMA disburses to states block grants. A good first step would be to amend federal law governing FEMA to transform the funding it provides to states into block grants. Doing so would lessen the need to comply with the federal bureaucracy. The former head of FEMA himself, Brock Long, advocated this reform in March 2018, saying “FEMA should be a block grant agency.”
Expand Waivers of Federal Conditions Attached to Aid. As HUD’s community development block grants illustrate, block grants alone will not solve problem of inefficiently disbursing aid. Making FEMA a block grant agency should be coupled with scaling back federal conditions attached to the grants. These conditions not only cause more paperwork and delays, but also embrace a “one size fits all” approach. For example, as the GLO pointed out in its post-Harvey report, HUD regulations require that 70 percent of HUD CDBG funding go to low and moderate-income people (some types of FEMA aid are subject to the same requirement). However, the percentage determination is made in a way that penalizes low-income people who live in counties with a relatively high proportion of wealthier people.
Consolidate federal disaster-related operations into a single agency or sub-agency. The federal government should give serious consideration to consolidating all disaster-relief programs into a single agency or sub-agency. As matters stand now, HUD, FEMA, the Small Business Administration, and the Army Corp of Engineers all undertake disaster recovery efforts. This arrangement inevitably creates delays, additional paperwork, bureaucratic disputes, and duplication.
Revise the aid application process for individuals to require the submission of only one form. As the 2018 report by the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas noted, individual applicants for federal aid in the wake of a disaster must often submit multiple forms. This repeated submission of forms can cause frustration among applicants to the point they do not believe the application process to be a net benefit. As the report recommended, the state should work with the federal government to streamline the application process so an applicant may submit a single form through an automated intake system.
Maximize the amount of federal aid, perhaps by requiring counties across Texas to develop hazard mitigation plans. The state should work with the federal government to maximize federal aid. The current method of allocating funds to the state appears unfair to Texas. As the GLO notes, over 40 percent of disasters since 1980 which have caused at least $1 billion in damages struck Texas, but over that period Texas has received less than 20 percent of federal community development block grants for disaster relief.[iv] One step the state could take to increase federal funding is to ensure that its counties develop hazard mitigation plans. Post-Harvey, Texas received over $1 billion through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation program. However, as one expert has pointed out:
[L]ess than half of Texas counties were eligible to receive HMGP [Hazard Mitigation grant program] funds because they failed to submit or renew their hazard mitigation plans, a requirement for such grants. Due in part to Texas’s low participation rate, Texas cannot produce an Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan, reducing the state’s eligibility for HMGP funding by 5%.
At the state level, policymakers enacted several important reforms during the 86th Session which implement lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey. While these reforms have not yet been tested, they should make Texas leaders confident that future disasters will be well handled.
Photo Credit: michelmond / Shutterstock.com