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US House Committee holds hearing on gov’t response to 2017 hurricane season

By on November 30, 2018

SAN JUAN – The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing Thursday on the U.S. government’s response to the 2017 hurricane season, including efforts to aid affected survivors and communities.
It was also intended to discuss opportunities to improve federal natural disaster-related programs, using lessons learned from 2017 hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, resulting in the costliest U.S. hurricane season on record, and affected nearly eight percent of the entire U.S. population, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Since the 2017 hurricane season, FEMA released an After-Action Report and has taken steps to implement lessons-learned over the past year.

Last month, committee Republicans released a staff report finding recurring problems continue to hinder federal disaster response and recovery efforts. The report came after the committee’s multi-year investigation of federal programs intended to help communities recover from major natural disasters.

“Members from both sides of the aisle focused primarily on the disputed death toll count in the aftermath of the hurricane. There are those on the hill who believe the hearing was a forecast of what will occur once Democrats gain oversight and subpoena power,” the center for the New Economy wrote about the hearing.

Among the witnesses invited to appear was FEMA Administrator  William B. “Brock” Long. He welcomed that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 gave FEMA, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, “Public Assistance funding for critical services to replace or restore the function of a facility or system to industry standards without restrictions based on their pre-disaster condition.

“The law further allows FEMA to provide assistance for critical services to replace or restore components of the facility or system that are not damaged by the disaster when it is necessary to fully effectuate the replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged components to restore the function of the facility or system to industry standards,” his submitted testimony reads.

“In Puerto Rico, we are facing many unique challenges throughout the long-term recovery process. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the Commonwealth, other federal agencies, and Congress to find joint solutions moving forward to: (1) develop cohesive, solutions-oriented strategies to maximize federal funding while building a more resilient Puerto Rico; (2) build Puerto Rico’s capacity to manage the incoming tens of billions of dollars in grant funding; and (3) continue internal controls to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer funding,” according to his testimony.

Major Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Dr. Lynn Goldman, Michael and Lori Milken Dean from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, also testified.
Goldman spoke about the Hurricane Maria study conducted by the public health school.

“Like all of the U.S., the physicians in Puerto Rico do not have the correct guidance to complete death certificates to relate deaths to hurricanes and natural disasters,” Goldman said. “But we didn’t find that the hurricane affected the quality or completeness of death certificates, although it did create some delays in some of the records.”

Goldman said the school’s researchers learned that resources need to be focused on the elderly and those living in low-income areas. For the coastal regions in particular, Goldman said there must be plans in place to protect medical facilities and evacuate people.

“We would like to see improvements in federal guidelines and training for death certificates as well as strengthening of public health systems,” she said in her testimony.

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