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Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito Delivers Opening Remarks in FEMA Hearing With Administrator Criswell

July 13, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing to examine Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell’s vision for FEMA and President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget request for the agency.
Watch the full hearing here.

As prepared for delivery:

I first want to begin by thanking Administrator Criswell for participating in this hearing, and for accommodating the schedule change. I look forward to hearing your perspective on the future of FEMA and I appreciate this opportunity to review FEMA’s work throughout the country. 
As we all know, our nation has faced historic wildfire seasons, costly hurricanes, and unprecedented emergencies in recent years, which currently includes extensive flooding in New York and Vermont. When Superstorm Sandy devastated New York, I was serving as Chief of the Island Park Fire Department, and distinctly remember the overwhelming damage and immense recovery efforts. With an estimated 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed on Long Island alone, I truly appreciate FEMA’s partnership and assistance in helping my community to rebuild and recover.  

I know that thousands of Americans are grateful for FEMA’s help in their time of need. However, I also know that FEMA has had its fair share of challenges while carrying out its mission to help people before, during, and after disasters. And as Members of this Subcommittee, we are tasked with ensuring that taxpayer dollars are used wisely to carry out this mission, and that these challenges are properly addressed.

One such challenge is that FEMA has experienced growing responsibilities and expanding mission sets amid severe staffing shortages and existing response and recovery operations. Since 2020, FEMA has responded to 247 Major Disaster Declarations across the United States – all while continuing to manage COVID-19 related assistance, whose incident period just closed on May 11th of this year.

Further, FEMA has been tasked with alleviating the impact of President Biden’s failures. From resettling Afghan refugees in 2021, to now housing and feeding illegal immigrants, I am worried that FEMA is becoming  a defacto ‘damage control’ agency. Will these added responsibilities hinder FEMA’s ability to help disaster survivors in their time of need?

Thanks to Secretary Mayorkas’ complacency at the Southern border, humanitarian crises have taken a toll on cities across the country – and not just in border cities like El Paso, but also in cities like New York and Chicago, where they have asked FEMA to help cover the costs of feeding and housing illegal immigrants. 

Even New York City Mayor, Eric Adams, recently said that the financial burden is “decimating the foundation of our city.” New York received over $104.6 million in FEMA funding to help cover the costs of housing thousands upon thousands of migrants in the city.

Administrator Criswell, I recently sent you a letter outlining concerns with the Emergency Food and Shelter Program – Humanitarian (EFSP-H). As noted in the letter, I requested FEMA provide a briefing to this Subcommittee to discuss the issues I highlighted in the letter. I hope our staffs are able to get something on the books soon to accommodate this request. 

Unfortunately, it seems that this migrant crisis has no end in sight, and cities will likely continue to ask FEMA for help, further adding to the agency’s very full plate. 

However, FEMA’s focus should be on helping communities with building resiliency to natural disasters, improving recovery programs, and completing existing reconstruction projects. Are communities prepared for the 2023 hurricane season? How can FEMA simplify the application process for survivors of natural disasters? When will recovery be complete in Puerto Rico? These are the questions that FEMA should be tackling.

I sent you a letter on May 31st expressing concerns regarding continued reconstruction projects in Puerto Rico, the vulnerability of communities in Puerto Rico during this current hurricane season, and concerns outlined in a report by the DHS Office of Inspector General that FEMA has not safeguarded federal dollars from fraud by not complying with the agency’s own internal guidelines. I appreciate the response I received this week, and welcome more thoughts on those concerns during this hearing.

As we look ahead, it is important that we address these questions to help FEMA stay on course and prioritize the mission that Congress gave FEMA in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 – which is to reduce the loss of life and property and to protect the Nation from all hazards, including natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters. Administrator Criswell – I look forward to hearing from you on these issues. I hope that this hearing today will bring clarity on the future of FEMA and how the agency will continue to carry out its mission.