Oral Testimony of Laurel Blatchford
Executive Director, Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
Field Hearing with Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee
March 1, 2013
· Chair Landrieu, Ranking Member Coats, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding the ongoing effort to rebuild in the region impacted by Sandy.
· I currently serve as Executive Director of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force established by President Obama and chaired by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan
· Sandy and the nor’easter that followed had immense impacts in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, and a number of other States.
· The storm caused tens of billions of dollars in damage and was the second most costly storm in American history – damaging or destroying thousands of small businesses and tens of thousands of homes
· The Administration’s primary focus remains on addressing the region’s most pressing needs – and as Administrator Fugate has discussed, the Administration has helped lead a coordinated, government-wide approach to response and near-term recovery
· But as we learned from Hurricane Katrina and other past disasters, planning for long-term rebuilding must begin even as response activities are underway
· That’s why the President created the Hurricane Sandy Task Force – to deliver the same level of government-wide coordination and responsiveness to help communities as they make decisions about long-term rebuilding
· The Task Force does not seek to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to rebuilding – while the Federal government has a key leadership role to play, state and local governments must rebuild based on their own visions
The Role of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force
· Accordingly, the Task Force is working to support states and local communities within the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). The Task Force complements the NDRF by building on the unprecedented coordination that has already taken place among Federal, State, local, and tribal authorities during the response and ongoing recovery efforts to date
· And we seek to carry this coordination forward as the recovery and rebuilding phase begins.
· With the expertise of virtually the entire cabinet represented, we will actively help communities with their long-term rebuilding efforts in five key ways:
o First, by coordinating with all stakeholders to support cohesive rebuilding strategies and develop a comprehensive, locally driven regional plan within six months of the Task Force's first meeting.
o Second, by identifying and removing obstacles to effective rebuilding efforts and reducing regulatory burdens.
o Third, by helping to coordinate the flow of Federal recovery funds and ensuring that the resources the Federal government provides are informed by local priorities.
o Fourth, by monitoring progress in rebuilding efforts to enhance accountability at every level as well as prevent waste, fraud and abuse.
o Finally, the Task Force will work with member agencies to ensure the federal government is lending critical support to those on the ground so that they can realize their respective visions for rebuilding and redevelopment
· And as you know, the Task Force is a short term entity – by design. Building on the lessons learned from Katrina, the President asked the Task Force to convene early in the recovery process to ensure that the principles for Federal investment are aligned, so that there is less confusion down the road.
The Task Force and Supplemental Funding
· Supporting local rebuilding efforts through financial means is a key part of the Federal role – one that has consistently been provided by the Federal government for communities experiencing disaster
· On January 29th President Obama signed the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013
· Federal agencies and departments have already begun the process of making this money available to state and local governments in the region:
o The Department of Transportation made available $2 billion through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new Emergency Relief Program to repair and rebuild public transit equipment and facilities
o The Federal Highway Administration has also made $250 million available to New York State to rebuild damaged roads and bridges
o In addition, HUD also announced the first round of allocations of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding, totaling $5.4 billion – HUD will make additional allocations in the coming months
· The Task Force’s role is not to supplant the agencies that have received appropriations, but to work with them to find ways to maximize the impact of these dollars and help support communities' redevelopment priorities – for example, by working with the Small Business Administration to find opportunities for data sharing that will help us identify areas of unmet need
· The Task Force will also help impacted communities use this funding to mitigate future risk from storms – storms that science tells us will have greater intensity and severity in the future
· Mitigation is sensible and cost effective – offering a four dollar return on each dollar invested by preventing future damage.
· We look forward to continuing our work with this subcommittee, others in Congress and our Federal, State and local partners to help communities rebuild in a way that makes them stronger, more economically sustainable and better prepared to withstand the next storm.
· Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.