Allowing federal disaster mitigation funds to go to rebuilding houses in stricken areas was one suggestion New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin made during his testimony on March 4 before the Congressional Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Nagin is chairman of the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) national Stafford Act Reform Task Force, which is seeking permanent change to the Stafford Act and changes in its implementation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The two-hour hearing addressed funding limitations and policy considerations to improve the speed of completing hazard mitigation projects. Des Moines, Iowa, Mayor Franklin Cownie and Rochester, N.Y., Mayor Robert Duffy also testified with Nagin, offering the knowledge they gained from hands-on experiences from their respective cities in managing disasters and recovery efforts, including Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the recent winter storms that struck Iowa and New York.

Nagin and Duffy urged the congressional panel, which is chaired by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia, to consider changing the current law to allow the rebuilding of homes with hazard mitigation dollars. Current law says property demolished with mitigation funding must be maintained as green space, which is not a practical solution in urban cities. The task force report suggests that the Stafford Act be amended to make a pilot hazard mitigation program of demolition-rebuild permanent.

Norton, who supports the proposal, asked Nagin to provide examples to support the change in the next few weeks. Other discussion points included the designation of "catastrophic" disasters and what language should be included to allow for such a designation. The recent earthquakes in Chile and Haiti and the threat of their occurrence in the Northwestern region of the United States were identified as examples of "catastrophic" events-massive devastation, loss of life and negative impact on the national economy. The task force report made the recommendation that such an event would trigger special procedures to expedite the recovery process in the affected area.

The mayors also recommended removing the $5 million cap on Community Disaster Loan funding to heavily devastated cities; funding for host cities that provide support for displaced citizens; creation of a comprehensive Case Management Program; and improved individual and housing assistance. Norton stated that there is widespread support for the USCM Stafford Act Reform recommendations. The USCM Stafford Act Reform Task Force included 24 mayors representing cities across the country.

View video of testimony.

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