Reps. Bustos and Davis Pass Bipartisan Bill to Bring Fairness to Disaster Declarations

Legislation heads to the Senate

Washington – U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today announced their bill, H.R. 1665, the Disaster Declaration Improvement Act, passed the House and is now headed to the Senate for consideration. This bill would help ensure that when a natural disaster strikes small communities, they aren’t unfairly denied recovery assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because of arcane funding formulas.

“Hardworking families from places like Pekin and East Peoria don’t want a handout, but they do want a fair opportunity to get back on their feet after natural disasters strike,” said Rep. Bustos. “Right now, FEMA’s formulas unfairly disadvantage these kinds of communities when they are trying to recover from a flood, tornado or other natural disasters. This is wrong. That’s why I am proud to have helped lead the effort to pass this bipartisan bill that will level the playing field for communities across the heartland. We got the language in this bill passed in the last Congress, but the Senate failed to act. I strongly urge the Senate to bring this important bill up for a vote so we stop leaving small towns and rural communities behind.”

“Recent severe weather in Illinois and across the Midwest reminds us that it is imperative we change the way FEMA determines the need for disaster relief,” said Davis. “Right now, the amount Illinois has to reach to receive federal public assistance after a major disaster is 18 million – nearly double that of any of our neighboring states. Time and time again rural communities in Illinois have been denied assistance and unfairly punished by this formula. Illinois taxpayers pay into the Disaster Relief Fund and it should be there when they need it. H.R. 1665 simply requires FEMA to take a greater look at the localized impact of a disaster, rather than just an arbitrary per-capita formula. I appreciate the support shown by my colleagues in the House today and hope the Senate follows suit.”

H.R. 1665 requires FEMA to give greater weight and consideration to the localized impact of a disaster when determining the need for federal assistance. Additionally, this bill requires FEMA to take into consideration the cumulative impact of multiple storms in an area. H.R. 1665 is similar to the bill passed by the House last Congress but was never considered by the Senate.

FEMA’s Formula

Currently, FEMA uses a per-capita formula to determine the need for public assistance. They multiply the state’s population with $1.39 then use this number as a threshold for determining the state’s need for public assistance. Illinois compared to surrounding states:

  • Illinois $18 million
  • Indiana $9.1 million
  • Missouri $8.4 million
  • Wisconsin $8 million
  • Kentucky $6.1 million
  • Iowa $4.3 million

FEMA can also take into account damage done in a specific county but whether they take this into account and how much this will impact their decision is highly subjective. The formula used to determine this is $3.50 per capita in infrastructure damage in a county.