At Hearing, Portman Stresses Importance of FEMA Protecting Communities From Violent Threats & Technological Hazards

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, stressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) work to protect communities from violent threats and technological hazards at a hearing examining what resources and authorities FEMA requires to address worsening emergencies and disasters, including flooding, severe storms, and wildfires.

In the hearing, Portman urged the House of Representatives to support his Committee-passed bipartisan legislation with Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the Technical Hazards Preparedness and Training Act of 2022. This bill would authorize preparedness programs to expand support to all communities containing technological hazards, require FEMA to identify communities in each state with the highest risk and vulnerability to a technical hazard, and ensure that state governments are made aware of the threat and that they have access to technical assistance and training from FEMA to address the threat.

In addition, Portman highlighted his bipartisan Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations From Terrorism Act signed into law by President Trump in 2020. This law authorized the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) for five years, from fiscal year 2020 to 2024. Under the law, funding may be used for target-hardening activities, training for personnel, and any other appropriate activity, as defined by the FEMA Administrator. He also discussed the importance of his bipartisan Pray Safe Act, legislation introduced with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), to establish a federal clearinghouse through which faith-based organizations and houses of worship could access information on safety and security best practices, available federal grant programs, and training opportunities.

A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Appreciate it, and we appreciate your service Administrator Criswell. You come with a lot of experience, I just joked with her and said is the Fed role easier than New York or the other states where she has run their programs, and for the record, she refused to answer the question, which is smart.

“FEMA has a lot going on right now. You’ve got such a critical role in so many areas, including natural disasters. You’ve got a budget of $24 billion, and that seems like a lot, but you’ve also got a lot of responsibilities. One area where I think we’re not doing enough is through the Technological Hazards Division. You can help communities prepare for technological hazards from nuclear power plants and from the last remaining US chemical weapons stockpiles. But that’s a small percentage of the number of communities in America that are facing potential problems here.

“There are big gaps in the program. Hundreds of communities have these hazards, such as a chemical plant or a radiological research facility, and yet FEMA is only again able to provide assistance to a small fraction of those, only those again located near a nuclear power plant or a chemical weapons stockpile.

“Given the ongoing threats and terrorist activities around the world, I think expanding the scope of FEMA Technological Hazards Division is really important and would enhance FEMA’s national preparedness framework. We’ve got a big plant in Ohio. As you know, the uranium enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio is an example of this. But there are also over 1,000 chemical plants in Ohio. And so we really want to have that Technological Hazards Preparedness support for these communities.

“We’ve introduced legislation to do this, it’s with Senator Sinema. It’s called Technical Hazards and Preparedness Act, very original name, and it expands support from FEMA to these communities. I’m pleased to say we got that bill out of Committee. I want to talk to you later about that bill, we’d love your help in getting it through the House and getting it to the President’s desk for signature, assuming you agree that it’s a good idea.

“You also play a role in helping keep our communities safe, not from natural disasters, but from terrorist attacks and violent extremists. Many people don’t know that FEMA’s implementing responsibilities includes implementing the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which helps community organizations, religious organizations, faith-based groups in general, to secure their facilities from this threat of violence. Ensuring enough resources to help the synagogues, Jewish community centers, other faith-based organizations has been a priority for us here in this Committee and mine personally. We’ve actually expanded this program, so it does include not just our urban areas, but all 50 states and different areas. President Trump signed our law that actually reauthorizes that program, and we would love to have your comments on that today as well, to talk about what you see is working, not working.

“My idea is not just for hardening these facilities, but also for providing best practices, which the new Pray Safe Act we’ve also introduced would help on, and Senator Hassan is here and probably will raise that as well. But we’d like to have your view on how you think that’s going.

“There’s another issue that I want to raise today, which is we had a 2018 law to forgive debt when FEMA issues disaster aid by mistake. So FEMA gives somebody some disaster aid that they’re not qualified to get it and they get it anyway, and then they go back and try to collect the money.

“Senator Peters just talked about the tornado in his state. All of us have had natural disasters and people make a commitment to a contractor to fix something because FEMA tells them that they are able to get the funding, and there are protections, by the way protections against fraud, misrepresentation or false claims, and if any of that happens, then the debtor is at fault and FEMA should be able to get the money back, claw the money back. But if there’s not fraud, misrepresentation, or false claims or something along those lines, the concern is that you’re going back to people and telling them we made a mistake, we need your money back.

“This is really tough for people. It’s not a lot of money we think that’s involved here. I think the estimate is it’s $350,000 a year. So we are also trying to pass legislation called Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act, meaning somebody is told you can spend $10,000 to fix your roof and then later they said, well, we need the 10,000 back because we blew it. So I’d love to know your views on that as well. It really is a clarification I think to this 2018 law to forgive debt when FEMA issues disaster aid by mistake.

“With that, Mr. Chairman, look forward to hearing the testimony, and again, thank you for your service.”