WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) questioned FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on ongoing issues and the agency’s response to Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Ida during a House Oversight Committee hearing today.
Key excerpts from Congressman Higgins’ opening statement:
Congressman Higgins: “Southwest Louisiana is appreciative of the $1.6 billion that FEMA and other agencies have delivered to help with immediate response costs, but this is insufficient for what is needed for long-term recovery. Hurricanes Laura and Delta alone have been estimated to cause $16 billion in damage to the region.”
Congressman Higgins: “Even with the passage of last week’s Continuing Resolution, these funds are over a year late and fall short of the necessary federal response. The entire Louisiana Delegation, including our Governor, has written 14 letters to Administration and Congressional leaders to get the funding out the door. Yet, political realities have injured the lives of Southwest Louisiana’s citizens for over 400 days.”
Congressman Higgins: “In closing, I would hope, Madam Chair, that although we can recognize intellectually, we may struggle as a body to address what’s been referred to as extreme weather. Perhaps the Chairwoman would agree to work with myself, my office, and Republican members of the committee to deal with the extreme bureaucracy that we face. We can certainly address that, whereby response to natural disasters across the country that affect Americans at one time or another in a very negative way… that we could work together to streamline bureaucracy and red tape that we face as citizenry attempting to recover.”
Key excerpts from Congressman Higgins’ exchange with Administrator Criswell:
Congressman Higgins: “Let me clarify that virtually every public entity, including Calcasieu Parish School Board, Cameron Parish, Jeff Davis Parish, the Port of Lake Charles, and the city of Jennings have numerous Public Assistance applications still outstanding from the 2020 hurricane season. This delay in funding has real-world consequences that forces small and local government entities to attempt to fund recovery efforts from very slim margins of revenue and to leverage state bond funding and other revenue streams.”
Congressman Higgins: “The fact that over a year after the initial incidents that these cities and towns are still waiting on the Public Assistance reimbursements that they qualify for, or in some cases even to have FEMA inspectors come and appraise the damage a year later. That’s shameful.”
Congressman Higgins: “As we discuss potential changes to federal programs to better respond to future natural disasters, meeting the citizens’ needs should be our top concern. An increased focus on timely responses between the federal government and the state and local entities. That should be primary, and better coordination and proactive efforts are needed.”
Congressman Higgins: “Administrator Criswell, I wrote to you on August 10th regarding Calcasieu Parish School Board’s Public Assistance (PA) applications. This is an example of the bureaucracy that we’re frustrated with from FEMA. The School Board has two Category A, 21 Category B, and 82 Category E projects currently outstanding. This is from a storm a year ago, ma’am. While some of these applications have been approved, it’s very few. Most of the requests are still outstanding. Jeff Davis Parish has $2 million worth of requests. These parishes cannot afford to carry that for a year for programs that they qualify for. Additionally, regarding FEMA’s 50 percent rule, the Port of Lake Charles has submitted multiple projects in order to receive funding and has yet to receive one validation or determination from FEMA.”
Congressman Higgins: “Administrator, can you explain why this school district, for instance, local governments, and others like it in my district have had to wait, in some cases over 300 days, to receive reimbursement that they clearly qualify for? Is it a funding issue, is it because of inspectors, or is it due to bureaucracy, ma’am?”
Administrator Criswell: “I certainly appreciate your advocacy for your constituents there in Lake Charles. We discussed this previously on the Committee on Homeland Security. In following that, I did make a trip down to Lake Charles. I visited with Mayor Nic Hunter to better understand some of the struggles that he has been experiencing, and I brought my senior leadership team with me so they could follow up directly. Some of the things we learned brand new during that visit, and my team has been following up on it.”
Administrator Criswell: “I don’t have the specifics on the school district that you mentioned, but it’s taking too long is what it sounds like. I commit to you that my team will continue to work with the representatives there to make sure that we’re moving this forward as fast as we can. I thought that we had made some progress after that visit, but I will follow up and make sure that it’s continuing to move forward.”
Congressman Higgins: “Administrator Criswell, thank you for being here today. We have more work to do. My office will be delivering a letter to you and your senior staff by the close of business today documenting specific, urgent requests to FEMA on behalf of my constituency who has been suffering for over a year from Hurricanes Laura and Delta. I’d like your personal commitment, ma’am, that you will receive our letter and be involved.”
Congressman Higgins: “Regarding rural areas and small towns. I beg of you, madam. Let’s make sure that our small towns, rural areas, poor communities get adequate attention and compassionate response, that they don’t get left behind. Can I get your commitment on receiving our letter documenting specific requests, urgent requests, and can I get a commitment that our rural areas and poorer communities don’t get overlooked and left behind?
Administrator Criswell: “Congressman Higgins, you have my commitment to be personally involved in that response to your letter, and I’d like to thank you and Congressman Carter for your leadership in supporting the people that have been impacted by these recent events in Louisiana.”