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House committee grills FEMA chief on long-term fixes in wake of Sandy

By Kelly Catalfamo

Publication: The Day

Published December 05. 2012 4:00AM

Washington - Members of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday grilled representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development about their response to Hurricane Sandy.

And while the legislators frequently praised FEMA's work in the field, they found fault with the lack of a broader, longer-term response strategy on the part of the agency.

"I hope that the members of the panel today will address questions regarding how we need to rethink our infrastructure," U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said. "The elephant in this room that needs to be spoken about is the impact of climate change. … We have to rebuild and rethink our infrastructure in those terms."

Yet, when legislators asked FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate about these kinds of infrastructure issues, such as developing a long-term strategy for safer housing on the shorelines, he insisted that such issues, while important, were beyond the scope of his agency.

"Again, this goes far beyond what FEMA does, it goes far beyond the Stafford Act," said Fugate, referring to the law that created the federal disaster relief system that is in place today.

Speaking about long-term housing solutions in New York and New Jersey, Fugate said, "The Stafford Act is a key part of this initial fix … but it does not get to pre-existing conditions, (and) it doesn't get to some of the regional challenges that we have in that dense population area."

Fred Tombar, a senior adviser to the HUD secretary for disaster recovery, noted that his agency is developing plans to provide rebuilding assistance - to be made available to communities that qualify for the Community Development Block Grant Program. The rebuilding assistance would help communities "build back in a way that is smarter and safer than what has been done before," he said.

Several cities in Connecticut, including New London, are CDBG-entitlement cities that would qualify for this assistance.

Members of the committee also raised the issue of supplemental funding for FEMA's recent efforts.

But while U.S. Rep. Timothy Bishop, D-N.Y., declared that the areas affected by Sandy "absolutely need" emergency supplemental funds without the need for offsetting budget cuts, Fugate saw the issue differently.

Noting that there is $4.8 billion left in FEMA's account, Fugate stated that the agency does not anticipate requiring additional funding until early spring.

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