Congressman Scott Peters

Representing the 52nd District of California

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Rep. Peters Intros Bill to Increase Transparency on Disaster Spending

Sep 18, 2014
Press Release

Rep. Peters Intros Bill to Increase Transparency on Disaster Spending

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52) introduced the “Disclosing Aid Spent to Ensure Relief (DISASTER) Act,” legislation to improve transparency on how much federal money is being spent on natural disaster response, and where we are spending it. The bill will make it easier for the public and policymakers to understand the real budgetary impacts of disasters and how to appropriately respond.

“Right now there is no single estimate of how much money the government is really spending on disaster-related assistance,” Rep. Peters said. “This bill fixes that problem by ensuring that we compile and organize data that the Office of Management and Budget is already receiving. That will give policymakers and the public an accurate picture of how natural disaster spending affects the federal budget, informing smarter policy decisions in the future.

“Natural disasters create lasting damage to communities that often takes years to recover from, and it’s time the federal budget started accounting for that correctly,” Rep. Peters continued.

Since coming to Congress, Rep. Peters has worked to give states and localities the tools necessary to prepare for natural disasters. Last year he introduced H.R. 2322, the STRONG Act, to expand information and best practice sharing between federal agencies and communities. Earlier this year, he introduced a petition to force a vote on H.R. 3992, the “Wildfire Disaster Funding Act,” legislation which would make the federal government properly budget for the increasingly devastating wildfires. That bill would allow catastrophic wildfires to qualify for existing natural disaster response funds, instead of forcing the U.S. Forest Service to use funds meant for prevention on response.

"When we examine the full costs of federal disaster relief from extreme weather events, we can see the enormous price to taxpayers from climate change inaction.  As climate-related impacts cause more frequent and damaging extreme weather, taxpayer liabilities  will soar. Ceres strongly supports the DISASTER Act, which requires our federal government to calculate the full scale of economic damages from extreme weather events and other climate-influenced natural disasters."  Mindy Lubber, President Ceres

Background on the DISASTER Act

The Federal government plays a vital role in helping communities recover from disasters. Yet, we do not know the scope of its involvement because the Federal government produces no single estimate of how much it spends on disaster-related assistance. At a time of constrained budgets, having an overall estimate of the Federal government’s involvement in disaster-related assistance is essential. The DISASTER Act accomplishes that by requiring the Office of Management of Budget (OMB) to produce an annual report, from data that it currently already collects, quantifying the impact of natural disasters on the Federal budget.

OMB, as required by the Budget Control Act (BCA), annually calculates the adjusted 10-year rolling average of disaster relief spending in order to set the allowable cap adjustment for disaster relief. In making its initial BCA calculation, OMB included spending by 29 individual accounts managed by 11 different agencies and departments. OMB calculates the disaster relief cap based on a narrow definition of disaster relief defined as “activities carried out pursuant to a determination under section 102(2) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122(2)).” Without specific reference to the Stafford Act, expenditures will not be included in OMB’s calculation of disaster relief, even if they were allocated by an agency to address a disaster. OMB's only estimate of disaster relief spending is the one required by BCA.

Recovery is a long-term process, and in an attempt to capture the full scale of Federal involvement, the report deliberately focuses on disaster-relief assistance, not just relief provided in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Data contained within the report would be presented in several ways (e.g. as funds obligated by agency and program account; funds obligated by specific disaster (type or event) to allow interested parties to evaluate the amount and purpose of the assistance. It would accompany the President’s budget request and be made publicly available online.

The DISASTER Act has been endorsed by numerous organizations: Environmental Defense Fund, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Ceres, Natural Hazards Mitigation Association, American Rivers, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife.

At the time of introduction the bill was cosponsored by Rep. Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Rep. Steve Israel (NY-03), and Rep. Paul Tonko (NY-20).

The bill text can be read by clicking HERE.

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