[Congressional Record Volume 168, Number 60 (Tuesday, April 5, 2022)]
[House]
[Pages H4175-H4177]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




      SMALL PROJECT EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE DISASTER RECOVERY ACT

  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the 
bill (H.R. 5641) to amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and 
Emergency Assistance Act to increase the threshold for eligibility for 
assistance under sections 403, 406, 407, and 502 of such Act, and for 
other purposes, as amended.
  The Clerk read the title of the bill.
  The text of the bill is as follows:

                               H.R. 5641

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

       This Act may be cited as the ``Small Project Efficient and 
     Effective Disaster Recovery Act'' or the ``SPEED Recovery 
     Act''.

     SEC. 2. SIMPLIFIED PROCEDURE.

       (a) In General.--Section 422 of the Robert T. Stafford 
     Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5189) 
     is amended--
       (1) in subsection (a) by striking ``$35,000'' each place it 
     appears and inserting ``$1,000,000''; and
       (2) in subsection (b)(3)--
       (A) in the heading by inserting ``AND REPORT'' after 
     ``REVIEW''; and
       (B) by inserting ``and submit to the Committee on 
     Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of 
     Representatives and the Committee on Homeland Security and 
     Governmental Affairs of the Senate a report regarding such 
     review, including any recommendations developed pursuant to 
     such review'' after ``under this section''.
       (b) Applicability.--The amendments made by subsection (a) 
     shall apply with respect to any amounts appropriated after 
     the date of enactment of this Act.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from 
Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) and the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. Graves) each 
will control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Oregon.


                             General Leave

  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks 
and include extraneous material on H.R. 5641, as amended.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Oregon?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act. 
This bill will expedite the approval process for FEMA's small projects 
within the public assistance program.
  The public assistance process is often slow and impeded by 
bureaucratic red tape, so FEMA offers a simplified approval procedure 
for small projects that cost $139,000 or less. When this program was 
implemented over 40 years ago, it was intended to capture 95 percent of 
public assistance project worksheets. There has been a little inflation 
since then.
  Today, as we noted earlier, many disasters are more widespread and 
more expensive. Today only 75 percent of projects are being captured by 
the $139,000 threshold. This legislation will ensure that, once again, 
95 percent of project worksheets are eligible for expedited review by 
raising the qualifying project threshold to $1 million.
  By updating the threshold for what qualifies as a small project, 
barriers to relief and recovery will be alleviated and so will the time 
it takes communities to get back on their feet post-disaster, and it 
will allow the limited staff at FEMA to turn their attention to more 
difficult, expensive, and problematic programs.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge all my colleagues to join with me and support 
this legislation. I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. GRAVES of Missouri. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I 
may consume.
  Mr. Speaker, I am proud to sponsor H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act. 
It is a bipartisan bill that cuts red tape and helps expedite disaster 
recovery efforts, especially in small and rural areas that we have 
throughout the country.
  This legislation updates the threshold of what FEMA considers a small 
project. It updates it to $1 million under the Stafford Act; $1 million 
under the Stafford Act. This is the first statutory adjustment under 
the Stafford Act for inflation and rising repair costs in nearly three 
decades.
  Historically, small projects have accounted for about 95 percent of 
all the recovery projects, but the prolonged failure to increase the 
cost threshold now means that 25 percent of these projects no longer 
qualify as small projects. That puts a huge burden on small rural 
communities that simply don't have the same kind of resources to deal 
with the bureaucracy at FEMA. For places like Craig, Missouri, or 
Brunswick, Missouri, both of which got hammered by the flood of 2019, 
it has meant more delays and headaches just trying to get the help that 
they need to recover and to rebuild.
  Updating the small project threshold is going to allow these 
communities to have more control over their disaster recovery efforts 
and to allow FEMA to focus more of their time and resources on larger 
and much more complex projects, which represent 90 percent of all 
disaster costs.
  After hearing directly from the communities in my district about the 
paperwork burdens and the increasing denials over technicalities, my 
hope is that this commonsense adjustment to the small project threshold 
is going to improve the process and speed up recoveries for many, many 
of our communities. We have also received a lot of support for this 
bill from emergency managers themselves.
  Mr. Speaker, I include in the Record a joint letter of support from 
the National Emergency Management Association, the Big City Emergency 
Managers, and the International Association of Emergency Managers.


[[Page H4176]]




                                             IAEM, NEMA, BCEM,

                                               September 10, 2021.
     Hon. Dina Titus, Chairwoman,
     Hon. Daniel Webster, Ranking Member,
     Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and 
         Emergency Management, Committee on Transportation and 
         Infrastructure, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
       Dear Chairwoman Titus and Ranking Member Webster: On behalf 
     of the three associations representing state and local 
     emergency management nationwide, we wish to convey our 
     support for the efforts of Representative Graves of Missouri 
     to introduce the Small Project Efficient and Effective 
     Disaster (SPEED) Recovery Act.
       When managing a disaster under the Stafford Act with 
     assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency 
     (FEMA), projects falling below a certain threshold are 
     considered ``small.'' While this threshold is adjusted 
     annually for inflation, the Fiscal Year 2020 level was a mere 
     $131,000. These small projects require less administrative 
     burden at the local, state, and federal levels which means 
     their approval and execution time is significantly faster 
     than larger projects. The SPEED Recovery Act will raise this 
     threshold to $1,000,000, thereby significantly increasing the 
     number of projects that can be expedited during the recovery 
     to a disaster.
       This type of modernization to disaster response and 
     recovery programs will allow us as emergency managers to more 
     swiftly move projects for disaster survivors and expedite the 
     road toward recovery. As we work individually and with one 
     another to build resilience nationwide, tools such as the 
     SPEED Recovery Act will simplify and streamline FEMA programs 
     when survivors need them most.
       We thank Representative Graves for his foresight on this 
     issue and appreciate your leadership in ensuring the SPEED 
     Recovery Act sees action in your subcommittee and throughout 
     the legislative process. Please contact NEMA Deputy Director 
     Matt Cowles, IAEM Director of Government Affairs Thad Huguley 
     or BCEM Executive Director Ron Prater if we can be of further 
     assistance.
           Sincerely,
     Sima Merick,
       NEMA President.
     Judson Freed,
       CEM, IAEM-USA President.
     Mark Sloan,
       BCEM President.

  Mr. GRAVES of Missouri. Mr. Speaker, I urge support of this 
legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.

                              {time}  1345

  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as she may consume to the 
gentlewoman from Nevada (Ms. Titus), the chair of the subcommittee.
  Ms. TITUS. Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman for yielding time.
  The SPEED Recovery Act will expedite the approval process for FEMA's 
small projects within the Public Assistance Program, or PA program.
  I am proud to join Chairman DeFazio, Ranking Member Graves, and my 
subcommittee ranking member, Mr. Webster, in bringing this bill 
forward.
  PA helps communities remove debris, implement emergency protective 
services, and repair damage to public buildings and infrastructure.
  The public assistance approval process can be lengthy and 
complicated, and that is why, as you have heard, the 1988 Stafford Act 
ordered FEMA to simplify the procedure for small projects that might 
not have the capacity or resources to deal with the red tape and 
complicated grant process.
  The cost for completing a small project, however, is not the same as 
it was in 1988 when this was first established. Stakeholders have 
reported to Congress, and I heard during a hearing of my subcommittee 
back in October, that the small projects the program was intended to 
cover are now unqualified. This legislation will raise the qualifying 
project threshold, and this updated threshold will speed the 
postdisaster recovery process and help us to make our communities get 
back on their feet.
  I support this. You heard it; that it is commonsense legislation. I 
ask my colleagues to do the same, use some common sense and vote to 
support this.
  Mr. GRAVES of Missouri. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the 
gentlewoman from Puerto Rico (Miss Gonzalez-Colon).
  Miss GONZALEZ-COLON. Mr. Speaker, I thank Ranking Member Graves for 
yielding time.
  Today, I rise in support of H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act, which 
is bipartisan legislation introduced by Ranking Member Graves with the 
support of Chairman DeFazio, Chair Titus, and Ranking Member Webster.
  This bill aims toward updating disaster recovery procedures. I can 
talk about that at length.
  During Puerto Rico's recovery from Hurricane Maria, many 
municipalities on the island faced the situation where, because of the 
rising costs of materials and labor, relatively simple projects such as 
a repair to a street or a minor building exceeded the current threshold 
for what is defined as a small project.
  That threshold today is around $123,000, which really only covers 
some minor work. This means that a lot of the work for which 
municipalities may have had the resources to cover their non-Federal 
share to start and finish promptly instead had to go through the full 
procedural chain for major projects to qualify for FEMA reimbursement.
  Those processes themselves have taken longer than expected. It took 
almost 4 years in the case of Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricanes for 
those municipalities, FEMA, and the Puerto Rico Recovery Office to be 
able to agree just on the measures to make the processes faster.
  That is years in which the people wondered when they were going to 
see the promised reconstruction. When a community does not see at least 
small things being taken care of, that weakens our communities and 
promotes displacement.
  Increasing the threshold to $1 million, including adjustments for 
inflation, would allow more recovery projects to proceed under 
simplified procedures, reduce administrative burdens, and provide more 
certainty for all. This is a major step, and that is the reason I am 
supporting this bill.
  Most disaster claims are on a small, local scale where there is no 
need to navigate the same procedures over larger, more complex projects 
and tie up the resources of FEMA and other agencies just looking at 
those papers. Although FEMA and other agencies have been open to using 
the administrative flexibility the law provides, in many real-world 
incidents, that is not enough.
  These updates make the Stafford Act language match the realities of 
construction costs in our States, territories, and communities, which 
FEMA and the local authorities can then use in order to facilitate 
approval of the small projects.
  Believe me, this is the biggest burden we have in the case of Puerto 
Rico. Four years after the hurricanes, we are still dealing with this.
  Many heads of agencies, Cabinet members, and administrative positions 
from FEMA and the rest of the Federal agencies still travel to the 
island to see how they can do this faster, and it is not just red tape. 
It is amending this kind of language that will provide for those 
projects to be sped up.
  I support this commonsense bipartisan legislation and urge all 
Members to support it, and I thank the ranking member for doing this.
  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. GRAVES of Missouri. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to the 
gentleman from California (Mr. LaMalfa).
  Mr. LaMALFA. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Missouri (Mr. 
Graves) for the time.
  Here we have again another triumph of legislation coming together 
that can be beneficial at no great new cost to the process.
  The Stafford Act has needed updating, certain aspects, for a long 
time. When you look at some of the difficulties when you are in a 
postdisaster situation of having to deal with some arcane legislation 
and laws, it just makes much more suffering than is necessary for 
people who have been victims, in my case, from many wildfires in 
northern California.
  In adhering to the approximate 95 percent of projects being under the 
new threshold, that still keeps with what had been set in place way 
back in 1988. H.R. 5641 is a triumph in that.
  Also, with it at 10 percent of total funding for disasters, we are 
not blowing the budget on this either.

  It is, indeed, very important because when you are talking about my 
rural district or rural America, you don't have the wherewithal to be 
hassling your way through some of these processes in order to get 
things going again postdisaster.
  In my area, for example, towns like Whiskeytown, Happy Camp, 
Hornbrook, Concow, Yankee Hill, Magalia, Paradise, Doyle, Canyondam,

[[Page H4177]]

Greenville, Indian Falls, and others I couldn't possibly all list here 
today, they are all going to be beneficiaries and appreciative of this 
effort because they don't have the ability, small counties like Plumas 
County and Lassen County, to have to deal with some of the restrictions 
previously under the Stafford Act.
  This would be a big win for anybody facing disaster, a small town, or 
even large, around this country. This is another win for us 
legislatively, and I appreciate the effort of the committee.
  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. GRAVES of Missouri. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my 
time.
  Mr. Speaker, H.R. 5641, the SPEED Recovery Act, is a commonsense, 
bipartisan bill that is going to help many small and rural communities 
respond to and recover from disasters with less delay and much less 
bureaucracy.
  Mr. Speaker, I urge support of this very important piece of 
legislation. I yield back the balance of my time.
  Mr. DeFAZIO. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time.
  This is a needed adjustment in the cap, very long overdue. It will 
expedite assistance to individuals, but it also will free up FEMA staff 
for more meaningful chores and work on ongoing and future disasters, 
mitigation, recovery, et cetera.
  It has tremendous merit, and I urge that all of my colleagues support 
this legislation.
  It will pass by voice vote, and then someone on that side will jump 
up and call for a recorded vote because that is why they think they are 
supposed to be here.
  Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the 
gentleman from Oregon (Mr. DeFazio) that the House suspend the rules 
and pass the bill, H.R. 5641, as amended.
  The question was taken.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds 
being in the affirmative, the ayes have it.
  Mr. HARRIS. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to section 3(s) of House Resolution 
8, the yeas and nays are ordered.
  Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX, further proceedings on this motion 
are postponed.

                          ____________________