Op-Ed: The time for HELP is now: Senate should pass bill to expedite recovery following natural disasters

It was a surreal experience for those of us in the Houston area: on the third anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, we found ourselves preparing for Hurricane Laura. And while those of us in Houston were fortunate not to have been in the path of another destructive hurricane this time, we know all too well the loss and devastation that our neighbors to the east in Texas and Louisiana are experiencing. And we know that difficult decisions must be made in the days and weeks ahead.

Rebuilding from a hurricane as strong as Laura is a process that will take years. But that process starts now, and the last thing that communities should worry about are unnecessary bureaucratic delays.

One of the lessons we learned from Harvey is that we can make the recovery process faster, smarter, and more efficient. The faster that local governments are able to begin mitigation projects, the more federal resources can be leveraged—and the more people they can help.

Under current law, local and state agencies applying for federal funds to begin recovery projects must wait until they receive approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) before purchasing land or starting construction on a project. Purchasing land or starting construction without approval disqualifies the project from receiving federal assistance. That means that disaster-stricken communities must wait to do things like buy-out flooded properties. After Harvey, those approvals took nearly a year. Most people recovering from a disaster cannot wait that long to decide what to do.

With a bipartisan group of representatives, including my Texas neighbor Pete Olson and our North Carolina colleagues G.K. Butterfield and Mark Meadows, I introduced the HELP Act in Congress to expedite these mitigation projects after natural disasters. This bill developed out of conversations with officials in my district about the impediments to disaster recovery we faced after Harvey.

The HELP Act will allow certain disaster mitigation projects to begin without the risk of losing potential federal funds. It changes the one-size-fits-all approach to reviewing projects that frequently delays mitigation work. This week, we were reminded yet again that there is no time to waste. We cannot predict when another natural disaster will occur, but we know this is one way we can help communities recover faster now. Those of us who have been through a natural disaster know how meaningful that is on days like these.

The House of Representatives passed the HELP Act last December by a vote of 409-7. After it passed the House, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the companion bill in the Senate. One way we can help our neighbors in need now is for the Senate to pass the HELP Act and the president to sign the bill into law so that they have another tool to use as they work to rebuild.

The HELP Act represents the good we can do—and must do. While it will not solve every problem, it will provide real and tangible help for communities in moments like this one. And it provides a roadmap to the coalition-building, bipartisan work that we expect and deserve from our lawmakers.

With communities beginning their recovery efforts from Hurricane Laura, there is no time to waste. The Senate should pass the bill immediately and get Gulf Coast communities—and communities across the country—the HELP they need now.

Lizzie Fletcher represents the 7th District and is Vice Chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management.

Original article can be viewed here

Join Lizzie