April 1, 2010

RI Delegation Urges Obama Administration to Take Additional Steps to Help RI Recover From Flooding

PROVIDENCE, RI – In advance of U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Napolitano’s visit to Rhode Island tomorrow, the Congressional delegation today sent her a letter urging the Administration to extend the existing major disaster declaration to the entire state, including Bristol County.

The delegation is also urging the Administration to speed economic assistance to the state for sorely needed public infrastructure rehabilitation. They urged the Secretary to help ensure that FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund can effectively reimburse state and local governments for reconstruction projects for facilities damaged or destroyed by the flooding.

The delegation also pledged to do everything they can to help extend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which expired Sunday because Senate Republicans filibustered a short-term extension. The lapse in authority will not affect existing flood insurance policies, but may have an impact on new policies and some renewals.

Text of the letter is below:

April 1, 2010

The Honorable Janet Napolitano
United States Department of Homeland Security Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

Thank you for agreeing to visit Rhode Island. We are grateful for the personal attention that you have given to our state at this time of need, and we appreciate the continuing efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency professionals who are on the ground assisting our state and local agencies.

While there is never a good time for a disaster of this magnitude to strike, the heavy rains and floods that have beset Rhode Island could scarcely have come at a worse time. With 12.7% unemployment and severe state and local budget deficits, neither individuals nor institutions alone have the financial means to mount the extraordinary response and rebuilding effort that is needed. As such, even with robust federal disaster assistance, the requisite matching funds will prove near impossible to find. As you are aware, our Governor has requested a waiver of non-federal cost share requirements under the Stafford Act. We fully support this request and urge the Administration to approve it. We also ask that the Administration extend the existing major disaster declaration to the entire state, including Bristol County.

We are also keenly aware of the precarious standing of FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), which is estimated to have only about $600 million to respond to this and other ongoing disasters, as well as disasters that may yet occur. Even before the flooding disasters in Rhode Island and the Northeast, the fund was expected to be exhausted in as little as four months. Anticipating this shortfall in February, FEMA was forced to begin limiting expenditures from the DRF. In some cases, FEMA completely suspended reimbursements to state and local governments for reconstruction projects for facilities damaged or destroyed by recent disasters. Given the current balance in the DRF, that approach may have been prudent. Nonetheless, we urge you not to apply this policy to Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s economy and workforce can ill-afford to be sidelined due to delays in needed public infrastructure rehabilitation. After suffering two disasters, one economic, one natural, Rhode Island should not be forced to accept recovery on the cheap.

Like you, we understand the urgent need to replenish the Disaster Relief Fund. To this end, Representatives Kennedy and Langevin voted for H.R. 4899, the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act, which was adopted in the House on March 24, 2010. This bill would add $5.1 billion to the DRF. Regrettably, consideration of this emergency funding package was blocked by the minority in the Senate, ostensibly due to objections about its cost. Similarly, a package that includes a temporary extension of Unemployment Insurance benefits and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has also been blocked in the Senate. While the lapse in NFIP authority will not affect existing policies, it may affect property sales and coverage under policies that were subject to renewal as of March 28, 2010. We urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the effects of this lapse on Rhode Island is minimized, and Senators Reed and Whitehouse plan to seek quick Senate consideration of H.R. 4899 and the other necessary legislation. In the meantime, we are committed to doing everything we can to overcome legislative obstruction and ensure that these bills are promptly adopted when Congress returns on April 12th.

Again, we thank you and the dedicated staff at the Department of Homeland Security for your work on behalf of our constituents.


Senator Jack Reed
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse
Congressman Patrick Kennedy
Congressman James R. Langevin

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921