Most Recent Action   106th Congress   Background   Hearing Summaries 

Natural Hazards Mitigation and Insurance Update (12-18-00)

Most Recent Action
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on December 13th that the two agencies will partner as part of Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant CommunitiesProject Impact began as a pilot program in 1997, with seven communities, as a community-based pre-disaster mitigation program.  Currently there are more than 200 Project Impact cities in nearly every state.  According to the press release, the agencies will promote improved disaster recovery and mitigation in areas around the nation by applying "science to better understand and prepare for the natural events that cause natural disasters."  A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding  between the two agencies is available on the USGS website.

On October 30, 2000, President Clinton signed H.R. 707, the Disaster Mitigation and Cost Reduction Act, into law (P.L. 106-390).  The bill, originally introduced by Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-FL), would amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to require  that states submit a detailed, comprehensive state program for emergency and disaster mitigation prior to receiving funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  During House floor debate on the bill back  in March 2000, two amendments were offered and approved by the House that would clarify language in the bill and require that FEMA hold a public comment period before "adopting new or modified policies that may result in a meaningful change in the amount of assistance a State or local community may receive."  The House passed H.R. 707 in a 415-2 vote.  Senate consideration of the bill was prolonged by the appropriation bills and an amendment in the form of a substitute that was offered by Sen. Robert Smith (R-NH).  More information on the Smith version and the Senate floor debate is available below.   (11/4/00)

Legislation in 106th Congress
1999 saw everything from a rash of tornadoes in Kansas and Oklahoma to flooding and wind damage from hurricanes Dennis and Floyd, especially in the Carolinas.  In response to these natural disasters and the drought that affected much of the nation's heartland last summer, several bills on disaster mitigation and insurance coverage were introduced during the first session of the 106th Congress.  Most of these bills amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to expand current pre-disaster mitigation programs to include small businesses, farmers, access to reasonable insurance, and decreasing costs associated with disasters.  At the end of the first session, there were close to fifty bills on disaster mitigation in Congress, but few of them have seen much action.

One exception to the congressional bottleneck is S. 388, a bill establishing a disaster mitigation pilot program within the Small Business Administration.  It was signed into law (P.L. 106-24) in April 1999.  Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) introduced S. 388 in February 1999; Representative James Talent (R-MO) introduced a companion bill, H.R. 818, later in the month.  Both bills moved quickly through the legislative process.  Soon, S. 388 superseded H.R. 818, and Sen. Cleland's bill went to President Clinton for his signature.  The Senate Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Small Business have more information on both of these bills.

The Homeowner's Insurance Availability Act of 1999, H.R. 21, has also escaped the bottleneck.  Introduced by Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY) on January 6, 1999, the very first day of the 106th Congress, it has been the subject of several hearings.  The bill provides both federally funded reinsurance for state and private insurance and reinsurance programs through auctions. The legislation specifically states that it will not displace or compete with private interests. The program would affect insurance for private residences only.  Among other requirements, eligible state programs are required to put at least ten percent of net investment income into mitigation efforts. The insurance would only apply to single-event disasters with damages exceeding $2 billion and the state or private program's claims-paying capacity. The Secretary of the Treasury would also have to determine that the disaster constitutes a likely one in one hundred year event.  H.R. 21 also requires the Secretary to raise the minimum level of retained losses annually. The total amount paid out by the federal government in a single year would not exceed $25 billion. If claims were to exceed that amount, prorated portions would be awarded. Contracts would be limited to "fifty-percent of the risk of insured losses in excess of retained losses for States or regions." After subcommittee consideration, the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services passed this widely-supported, bipartisan authorization bill.  It is now on the House floor calendar.

H.R. 707 is the only other disaster mitigation bill that is on the proverbial fast track.  Introduced in early February 1999 by Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-FL), H.R. 707 amends the Stafford Act to require states to submit a detailed, comprehensive state program for emergency and disaster mitigation prior to receiving funds from FEMA.  The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed the bill out of committee on March 3, 1999, and the bill was placed on the House calendar for floor debate.  During floor debate, several amendments were introduced before the bill was passed in a 415-2 vote.  The bill was then sent to the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, which passed it on February 9, 2000.

On October 27, 1999, the House Banking Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity held a hearing on the Two Floods and You are Out of the Taxpayer's Pocket Act, H.R. 2728.  Representatives Doug Bereuter (R-NE) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the bill the previous month.  The bill amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act -- the authorizing legislation for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and all of its programs -- to reform the agency's National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  H.R. 2728 addresses properties that are repeatedly damaged in floods, which under current law are not charged the actuarial, risk-based rates for their flood insurance.  Under this new legislation, owners of repetitive loss properties, who refuse other FEMA flood mitigation measurers and have already been paid for two or more NFIP claims, would have to pay actuarial rates, saving millions of taxpayer dollars.  A summary of this hearing and other related mitigation hearings are available on the hearing summaries website.

The Senate passed H.R. 707, the Disaster Mitigation and Cost Reduction Act of 2000, by unanimous consent on July 19, 2000.  During floor debate, Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH) introduced an amendment in the form of a substitution that completely changed the bill from the version that passed the House -- necessitating a conference between the two chambers to work out the differences.  Smith's bill transfers the power of many of the programs envisioned in the bill from the president (as it is in the version introduced by Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-FL) and passed by the House earlier in the year) to the Director of FEMA.  More information on the bill and the complete text of the different versions of the bill are available on the Library of Congress Thomas website (type in H.R. 707 into the search field).  (7/19/00)

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Emergency Management held a hearing on the cost effectiveness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) on July 20, 2000.  Nearly a year ago, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report on HMGP that found in the last ten years approximately 15% of funds distributed by HMGP have been exempt from traditional cost-effective analysis.  The release of this report coincided with a subcommittee hearing on the same matter.  The July 20th hearing was a follow up to see how HMGP has incorporated the recommendations from the 1999 GAO report.  Summaries of both the July 20, 2000, hearing and the August 4, 1999, hearing on HMGP are available on AGI's Natural Hazards Mitigation and Insurance Hearing Summaries website. (7/20/00)

Other Legislation

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was established in 1979 when President Carter signed the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which authorizes much of FEMA's activities. The agency's mission is "to reduce loss of life and property and protect our nation's critical infrastructure from all types of hazards through a comprehensive, risk-based, emergency management program of mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery."

Between 1989 and 1994, the president declared more than 291 disasters, and FEMA gave over $34 billion in assistance to disaster victims.  In order to decrease the federal costs of disasters and meet goals set out in the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), FEMA has incorporated pre-disaster, community-based mitigation into its restructured, refocused mission.  In 1996, the agency released its "National Mitigation Strategy," developed as a framework to help reduce the losses from natural disasters. The agency called upon all levels of government, individuals, and the private sector to build partnerships to address the plan's five major elements:

The National Mitigation Strategy includes a Mitigation Action Plan which describes actions all Americans should take to begin to reach the goals set out in the Strategy.

In Fall 1997, FEMA announced the launching of Project Impact, a community-based pre-disaster mitigation program. Seven pilot communities were chosen: Deerfield Beach, FL; Allegany County, MD; Oakland, CA; Pascagoula, MS; Seattle, WA; Randolph County/Tucker County, WV; and Wilmington/New Hanover County, NC.  Early in 1998, FEMA announced that the pilot program had been a success.  As a result, the agency was planning on opening one Project Impact community in every state by the end of the year. The Project Impact website includes information on ways for communities to reach the National Mitigation Strategy's goals.

Legislation in the 105th Congress
During the 105th Congress, FEMA was the topic of more than ten bills amending the Stafford Act to include disaster mitigation and streamline the agency.  Five bills dealt specifically with mitigation.

On September 10, 1997, Representative Bud Shuster (R-PA) introduced the Disaster Streamlining and Cost Reduction Act of 1997, H.R. 2446.  The Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing on January 28, 1998, to discuss natural disaster mitigation and H.R. 2446, which was subsequently replaced by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert's (R-NY) H.R. 3869, the Disaster Mitigation Act of 1998.  The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure passed H.R. 3869 by voice vote on June 25, 1998. The bill was then reported to the House (H.Rpt.105-682) on August 6, 1998.

Rep. David Obey (D-WI) sponsored the third House bill on disaster mitigation.  Entitled the Disaster Relief Partnership Act, H.R. 3728 was referred to several committees and saw no further action.

On the Senate side, two bills were introduced.  On July 10, 1997, the late Senator John Chafee (R-RI) introduced S. 1007, the Disaster Streamlining and Costs Reduction Act of 1997, on behalf of the Administration.  The bill saw no further action.

On July 23, 1998, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands, Private Property and Nuclear Safety held a hearing on proposed FEMA reforms in a draft bill. Subcommittee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Bob Graham (D-FL) worked together on drafting legislation to "refocus the energies of federal, state and local governments on mitigation, and [to] shift our efforts to preventative -- rather than responsive -- actions in planning for disasters."  Senator Inhofe introduced the Disaster Mitigation Act of 1998, S. 2361, which the Committee on Environment and Public Works reported favorably with amendments on July 29, 1998.

For more information on developments during the 105th Congress, see

Sources:  Federal Emergency Management Administration, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, U.S. Geological Survey,  Library of Congress,, and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation website

Submitted by Kasey Shewey and Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs, as well as AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns Althea Cawely-Murphree and Michael Wagg

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last Updated December 18, 2000

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