Vicky Hartzler. Photo by Bill Benson

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia- President Trump signed into law the FEMA Relief Improvement Act (H.R. 1117), a measure sponsored by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) aimed at increasing the reliability of FEMA’s services following disasters. The law ensures disaster victims receive better guidance, more accurate information, and greater service from FEMA during emergencies and natural disasters, Hartzler says.

“There are already enough ‘unknowns’ for disaster victims,” Hartzler explained. “They deserve to have confidence and certainty in our nation’s emergency response systems. A family who has experienced the devastation of a flood, a tornado, or a hurricane needs peace of mind—not bureaucratic roadblocks and red tape.”

In the past, there have been repeated incidents of lost and misplaced paperwork, poor communication between state and federal agencies, and a general lack of information from FEMA officials during emergencies, hindering disaster response and relief. In Missouri, there are still cases pending from floods that occurred in 2013.

The signing of this bill into law is timely, considering the many natural disasters that have affected the U.S. this year—from devastating hurricanes and wildfires to the widespread flooding that struck Missouri in spring 2017, leaving homes, farms and properties plagued with water damage.

Hartzler’s bill, which passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, requires FEMA to improve accountability by devising a plan to provide consistent and timely guidance during disaster responses.

Specifically, the legislation requires FEMA to create an action plan to improve field transition by:

  • Providing consistent guidance to applicants on FEMA disaster funding procedures during the response to an emergency or disaster;
  • Conducting appropriate record maintenance and transfer of documents to new teams during staff transitions;
  • Providing accurate assistance to applicants and grantees to ease the administrative burden throughout the process of obtaining and monitoring assistance;
  • Implementing operating procedures and documenting retention requirements to ensure the maintenance of appropriate records throughout the lifecycle of the disaster; and
  • Identifying new technologies that further aid the disaster workforce in partnering with state, local, and tribal governments and private nonprofits in the wake of a disaster to educate, assist, and inform applicants on the status of their disaster assistance applications.

“I’m thrilled this timely piece of legislation has been signed into law,” Hartzler said. “Now, victims of disaster will receive the prompt assistance they need and deserve.”

Congresswoman Hartzler represents Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She serves on the House Agriculture and Armed Services Committees.