Peters and Portman Bipartisan Legislation to Protect FEMA Reservists’ Jobs During Disaster Response Passes Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to protect Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Reservists from losing their full-time employment when they are called up to assist communities with disaster response has passed the Senate. FEMA Reservists are temporary, on-call and intermittent employees who are essential to the agency’s mission to quickly respond to disasters, but they currently lack employment protections that ensure they will be able to return to their full-time jobs once their disaster response mission is complete. The bill, which the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced in July, now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Recent emergencies from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic to severe flooding in Southeast Michigan show that FEMA must be prepared to respond to any disaster. That includes ensuring this critical agency can recruit and retain Reservists to strengthen our response to disasters,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud this bipartisan bill has passed the Senate and will continue to fight for its passage into law so we can protect the livelihoods of our dedicated FEMA Reservists when they answer the call to help Americans recover from a disaster.”

“FEMA Reservists should be protected from any disadvantage or discrimination due to their service and that’s why I’m proud the Senate passed this bipartisan bill to extend Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protections to FEMA Reservists. This bipartisan bill will improve the retention of these highly skilled emergency responders while also strengthening the agency’s readiness to respond to major disasters,” said Senator Portman. “It is not only the right thing to do but comes as our country is facing a record high number of disasters where these Reservists are needed the most.”

Currently, FEMA faces a large shortfall of Reservists because it is difficult to recruit and retain Americans who are likely unable to balance Reservist duties and full-time employment. Unlike reservists in the U.S. military, FEMA Reservists do not currently have employment protections that would enable them to perform their disaster response duties and ensure that their permanent, full-time jobs will still be available when they return.

The Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce Act would extend critical employment protections to FEMA Reservists to ensure they would be able to keep their full-time employment when they are called to assist in disaster response efforts. Peters and Portman introduced the legislation following testimony they heard as part of the Committee’s bipartisan oversight of the COVID-19 pandemic response to ensure the United States is better prepared for future national emergencies.