Washington Insight

FEMA to face many changes in a new administration

Andrea J. Fisher
Manager of Government Relations
APWA Washington, D.C. office

The appropriations process is underway in Washington, and for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) several changes may be on the horizon. Both President Bush and FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh are stressing a policy of "empowerment and personal responsibility as they pertain to disaster preparedness and mitigation." A budget request of $2.1 billion has been proposed by the agency to fund its core operations, including $1.4 billion needed to cover the prior year's disaster declarations and new small and medium-sized disasters. Also in the budget is a request for $105.7 million to go to mitigation programs providing assistance to reduce damage from earthquakes, hurricanes, dam failures and floods. The budget request for the fiscal year 2002 runs from October 1, 2001 through September 30, 2002.

The budget request is not without controversy. Reforms are being proposed for the National Flood Insurance Program that would eliminate insurance coverage on repetitive loss properties and eventually phase out subsidized premium rates for vacation homes, rental properties, and other non-primary residences and businesses.

Another proposal that is facing criticism by state and local governments is one that would require publicly-owned buildings to carry disaster insurance. Should a state or community fail to carry the insurance they may not be granted federal disaster assistance. It was determined by FEMA last year that further study is necessary, but due to its inclusion in the budget it is uncertain how the debate may be resolved. A preliminary report is scheduled to be out by the end of this fiscal year.

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is also facing changes. If enacted, state and local governments would be expected to carry an increased share of the cost associated with the program. Present share for states and local cost versus federal cost is 75/25 respectively. However, the budget proposes a change to a 50/50 share of the costs. In testimony before committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Director Allbaugh has expressed concern with this change to the HMGP and is uncertain about the fairness of such a cut.

Project Impact, a program to provide participating communities with funding for pre-disaster mitigation and planning, has been zeroed out in the budget proposal. Director Allbaugh in hearings before the House and Senate has stated that Project Impact has been effective, but that it is time to take the project to a higher level and to receive a "bigger bang for the buck." FEMA is currently working on disaster criteria and plans to fold the Project Impact program into an expanded effort that would include an increased role for state and local governments. However, the fact that there is no funding for such a program in the budget makes it unclear as to what the new program may be or how it would operate. Furthermore, there has not been any indication about what would happen to current participating Project Impact communities.

FEMA's budget has so far been receiving mixed reviews in Congress, some positive for its approach to greater personal responsibility. However, opponents have been very vocal, particularly the California and Washington state delegations. There is no doubt that Director Allbaugh is facing an eventful first appropriations cycle. Please check out APWA's website, www.apwa.net, for future updates as the process moves along. Should you have any questions please contact the Washington office at (202) 408-9541.