House passes disaster aid reform bill, sends it (again) to the Senate

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who sponsored the bill, said FEMA has called for many of the reforms in the bill in order to help get federal disaster aid to affected people more quickly. But he noted that while the House passed similar language last September as part of a FEMA reauthorization bill, the Senate failed to consider it.

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Denham also said FEMA has called for quick passage of the reforms so they can be used to get aid more quickly to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

"In order to help those communities impacted by Sandy, the FEMA administrator has made it very clear these reforms must be signed into law by March 1st," Denham said.

"It's been nearly eight years since Hurricane Katrina, and there are still projects that are unresolved," Denham added. "We don't want to make the same mistakes that happened with Hurricane Sandy."

Among other things, the bill would make permanent two pilot programs — one aimed at speeding the process of removing storm debris, and another that allows FEMA to make limited repairs to buildings rather than have people use more expensive temporary FEMA trailers.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) said disaster management officials believe these pilot programs have helped save money, and the bill approved by the House makes them permanent.

The bill would also let FEMA issue money to storm victims more quickly based on estimated damages, not the final costs of reconstruction. Supporters of the bill say that will allow for the fast delivery of federal aid, which will let people start rebuilding more quickly. The bill allows for expedited environmental review of reconstruction projects.

Passage of the disaster aid reform bill on Monday will be followed on Tuesday by work on a $50 billion Sandy relief package. Work on the latter bill is expected to be completed by Wednesday.