Sixth months ago, President Trump signed into law the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) and the Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief. His action was widely cheered by legislators on both sides of the aisle, and praised by a broad range of individuals and organizations – including ERA.
Both new laws empowered the Federal government to provide funding to finance mitigation activities, such as elevating existing structures, protecting utilities, making buildings (including roofing systems) more wind resistant, and installing fire-resistant roofing before a storm hits. Through the DRRA, Congress intends to provide greater flexibility for applicants to build what they need rather than simply restore or replace what was damaged. FEMA Administrator Brock Long called the approach transformational.
At the time the laws were signed, DRRA mitigation grant funding was projected to quadruple. Additionally, the legislation was designed to provide a steady stream of sufficient funding, rather than year-to-year congressional appropriations. Given this supposedly reliable approach, states and local governments would have time to plan and create a resilient environment, rather than rebuild after a devastating disaster, potentially repeating the same design mistakes. This approach to mitigation was good news for the roofing community, allowing architects, building owners, specifiers, and contractors to use the full range of their resources to create resilient structures, rather than respond after-the-fact to repair the damage inflicted by extreme weather events.
But, as Washington observers have long known, there are many steps between the signing of a bill and funds actually flowing to the intended recipients. In this case, the funds are tied up in bureaucratic red tape: the Office of Management and Budget has yet to approve the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) rules for specifically how states and territories can use these dollars. Before the final “t’s” are
crossed and “I’s” dotted, funds cannot be sent to help protect vulnerable communities.
Ironically, even as the bureaucratic wheels are turning very slowly to deliver funds to the targeted states, the National Institute of Building Science released a report providing an even more compelling evidence of the value of mitigation. Their most recent report, released in January and updating prior studies, reported a national benefit of $11 for every one dollar invested in mitigation.
In 2017, the federal government spent more than 300 billion dollars in disaster recovery funding. The final tally for 2018 is not yet available, but it is certain to rival that of the record-setting prior year. We’ve made significant legislative progress towards changing our approach, saving dollars and lives. Let’s put the funding piece in place, so that the roofing community can do its part to make those legislative plans a reality.