I. Background of Disaster Relief Funding

A. Historical Context of Federal Disaster Relief

Until the 1930s, the United States federal government did not have a formal framework for providing disaster assistance to states and local governments—it was provided on an ad hoc basis.[1] The first federal programs assisting state and local governments with flood control and other economic emergencies emerged with the New Deal.[2] In 1950, Congress passed the Federal Disaster Act (FDA) which authorized general federal government response to major disasters.[3] The FDA was not comprehensive in that it authorized federal assistance to repair public facilities but did not authorize aid for individuals or households.[4] Although much has changed in the almost seventy years since its enactment, the FDA established the basic framework for American federal disaster relief.[5] It authorized the President to provide disaster relief assistance without explicit Congressional approval.[6] Further, federal aid was not designed to supersede state aid, but instead to supplement state and local efforts.[7]

Over time, continuing changes to the national political environment called for adjustments to the federal disaster paradigm. “Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Congress enacted a series of bills that continued to expand federal aid in multiple categories and created an uncoordinated tangle of agency responsibilities.”[8] For example, the Disaster Relief Act (DRA) of 1966 expanded federal assistance, adding disaster recovery to the existing disaster response authorizations.[9] Disaster response primarily takes place during an ongoing emergency and “[i]ncludes actions taken to save lives and prevent further property damage,” while disaster recovery primarily occurs after an emergency has ended and “[i]ncludes actions taken to return to a normal or an even safer situation . . . .”[10]

At least two major developments occurred in the 1970s. In June 1972, Hurricane Agnes struck Florida and cut a path North across the Eastern seaboard, hitting Pennsylvania hardest.[11] It killed 122 people and caused a total of $17.5 billion in damage.[12] Unfortunately, state and local governments were not prepared and federal agencies lacked coordination.[13] Two years later, Congress again expanded the federal disaster relief system with the enactment of the DRA Amendments of 1974,[14] marking the first authorization of the direct disbursement of federal aid to individuals and households[15] and the first federal legislation formalizing disaster mitigation efforts.[16] Critically, however, the DRA amendments distributed authority to various agencies, rather than to a central authority.[17] In 1979, in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island disaster, the landscape of federal disaster relief changed yet again as President Carter signed Executive Order 12148.[18] This order established the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), centralizing control of federal response in one agency[19] with ten regional offices located throughout the country.[20]

B. The Modern Model for Federal Disaster Relief

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act[21] (Stafford Act) authorizes the majority of modern federal disaster relief efforts.[22] Enacted on November 23, 1988,[23] the Stafford Act attempted to remedy lingering inefficiencies in federal disaster response and expanded the scope of federal assistance to include disasters of any cause.[24] Federal aid authorized by the Stafford Act may only be utilized when local and state governments are overwhelmed by a disaster or emergency event.[25] Under the Stafford Act, a President may declare a situation to be a major disaster, emergency, or fire management condition.[26]

In 2003, FEMA was incorporated into the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), changing FEMA’s position within the federal bureaucracy.[27] As part of the continuing changes to federal disaster relief, President George W. Bush’s White House issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 on February 28, 2003,[28] directing the DHS Secretary and the Homeland Security Council to develop and administer a National Response Plan (NRP).[29] The first large event on which the NRP was tested was Hurricane Katrina, which hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.[30] As many commentators have recognized, the federal response to the hurricane was a disaster.[31] As a result, Congress enacted the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act in 2006, which kept FEMA within DHS but made it a more distinct entity with more power, including the ability to report directly to the President in an emergency.[32]

Much of the blame for the dismal response to Hurricane Katrina fell on the NRP and consequentially, a replacement response plan, the National Response Framework (NRF), was created in 2008.[33] The NRF was designed to allow a more nimble and varied response depending on the scope of the event.[34] It also designates specific federal agencies to perform emergency support functions in federal response efforts.[35] Although federal agencies remain independent, with their own legal authority, their heads, and the heads of local and state operations, collaborate within a Unified command structure.[36] Further, the NRF allows for a designation of “catastrophic incident” when a storm is so great that it might prevent a Governor from following normal request processes.[37]

After Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast in the fall of 2012, affecting twenty-four states, Congress enacted the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 and the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA).[38] The law provided for changes to FEMA’s process of providing individual assistance to disaster survivors.[39]

1. Declaration Process

The procedure for presidential declarations is codified in section 401 of the Stafford Act.[40] Upon the occurrence of a disaster or event, the local government responds and, if overwhelmed, calls upon the State.[41] If it becomes clear federal assistance will be necessary, officials from local, state, and federal governments attempt to determine recovery needs by completing a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA), the results of which are utilized by the Governor when requesting federal disaster assistance through the regional FEMA office.[42] The request must include (1) a statement that the severity and magnitude of the disaster overwhelm state and local capabilities, (2) confirmation of the activation of the state’s emergency plan, (3) a commitment to the cost-share requirements and information on what state and local aid is committed to the relief effort, and (4) an estimate of the damages requiring federal assistance.[43] Once the request has been received, FEMA evaluates the request and may make a recommendation to the President.[44] Based on this information, the President may issue a declaration.[45] The declaration may cover the entire request or only a portion of it.[46] Each declaration specifies the states and individual counties covered, the federal programs activated, the federal cost-share,[47] and an estimate of the disaster damage and an allocation of the aid.[48] Aid is then disbursed at FEMA’s discretion per the Stafford Act, and once “assistance through federal programs is complete and all funding streams have been exhausted,” the disaster is closed out.[49] If a request is denied, it may be appealed by the requesting Governor within thirty days.[50] The process to review these appeals is essentially identical to the initial approval process.[51]

2. Declarations

Under the Stafford Act, the President may make several types of declarations: (1) a major disaster declaration,[52] (2) an emergency declaration,[53] and (3) an emergency assistance declaration.[54] Alternatively, FEMA may activate the Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) program.[55] This Comment, however, focuses on major disaster and emergency declarations. As defined in the Stafford Act, a major disaster is:

any natural catastrophe (including any hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, winddriven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or drought) or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood, or explosion, in any part of the United States, which in the determination of the President causes damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance under this chapter to supplement the efforts and available resources of States, local governments, and disaster relief organizations in alleviating the damage, loss, hardship, or suffering caused thereby.[56]

Major disasters are often distinguished from emergencies because they require more aid,[57] and therefore are defined more narrowly (so as to avoid the excessive provision of a large quantity of aid).[58] Some disasters are so large that FEMA considers them not only to be a major disaster, but also a “catastrophe.”[59] An emergency under the Stafford Act is defined as:

any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States.[60]

Federal emergency assistance is capped at $5 million, but that cap may be exceeded if the President informs Congress.[61] Unlike a major disaster declaration, an emergency declaration may be made before a disaster hits in anticipation of a state’s need for life-saving and loss prevention measures.[62] As time goes on and the need for assistance lessens, the President may amend or modify a major disaster or emergency declaration to reduce federal aid amounts.[63] The federal cost-share for disaster relief efforts once such a declaration has been made is, at minimum, seventy-five percent but may be increased if necessary.[64]

3. Types of Aid

Approved aid is earmarked for one of three general purposes: (1) public assistance, (2) individual assistance, or (3) hazard mitigation assistance.[65] Generally, neither public nor individual assistance will be provided if the damages assessed are covered by insurance or another benefit program.[66] Further, FEMA officials have discretion in approving aid applications.[67]

Public assistance is aid provided to public entities like states, local communities, and, at times, nonprofit organizations.[68] It is directed toward repair, restoration, reconstruction, or replacement functions. A public entity within a disaster-designated area has thirty days after a declaration to submit its application for federal assistance and, if approved, “[a] combined Federal/‌State/‌local team proceeds with the Project Formulation” and “prepares a Project Worksheet (PW) for each project.”[69] FEMA considers several factors when determining whether to provide federal public assistance.[70]

Individual assistance is aid provided to individuals and households through loans, grants, emergency housing, tax relief, and unemployment assistance.[71] It may be used for temporary housing, home repair, and under rare conditions, home replacement, permanent housing construction, and other necessary and serious needs.[72] In each case where individual assistance is awarded, the homeowner must register for assistance directly with FEMA, and her eligibility must be verified before FEMA can offer it.[73] Other individual assistance may be provided through the Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan program.[74] The SBA may provide loans to repair or replace individual homes or personal property, business property including inventory and supplies, and economic injury to small businesses or agricultural cooperatives.[75] FEMA considers different factors when determining whether to award individual assistance.[76]

Hazard mitigation involves “sustained measures enacted to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from natural hazards and their effects.”[77] As with other forms of assistance, hazard mitigation funds often have a seventy-five percent federal cost-share.[78] As of May 1, 2005, states were required to submit a State Mitigation Plan in order to receive nonemergency hazard mitigation assistance.[79] States receiving hazard mitigation assistance may, among other things, use the funds to acquire or relocate property in high-hazard zones, elevate flood-prone structures, and strengthen structures against wildfires.[80]

4. Funding Sources

Federal disaster relief efforts are primarily funded through two mechanisms: (1) the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) and (2) supplemental appropriations. The DRF is managed by FEMA, and its funds are accessible by agencies throughout the year.[81] As a “no-year” account, its funds do not annually expire, and instead, are available until expended.[82] To calculate the annual DRF appropriations, FEMA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) examine factors including available appropriations, the average “normal” disaster costs, monthly cost estimates for catastrophes, and estimated recoveries.[83] Once calculated, FEMA and the OMB submit a request to the President who then submits a budget proposal to Congress.[84] Although money in the DRF account is typically only released after the President makes a disaster declaration, the DRF funds some activities without a declaration.[85] The DRF is currently used to fund “normal” disasters and emergencies.[86] A normal disaster is one that costs less than $500 million; therefore, the DRF typically only funds relief for minor incidents.[87]

Supplemental appropriations are typically used to fund major events costing more than $500 million.[88] These funds are appropriated by Congress through special emergency spending legislation.[89] Because the DRF is not expected to provide aid in catastrophic disasters, and because DRF funds are increasingly drained by the end of each fiscal year, supplemental appropriations are necessary for disaster relief.[90]

II. Federal Disaster Relief’s Many Challenges

The Stafford Act was passed just over thirty years ago in 1988, two years before the World Wide Web was invented,[91] two years before the Hubble Telescope launched into orbit on the Space Shuttle Discovery,[92] and three years before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War.[93] Although the Stafford Act was enacted to streamline federal disaster relief effort, it has become increasingly difficult to secure federal expenditures for disaster relief and manage the disaster relief system in recent years. Disasters like Hurricane Maria, the wildfires in California, and Hurricane Harvey here in Houston, have brought to the forefront the serious inadequacies in the disaster relief framework.[94] Over the years, Congress has attempted to resolve many of the challenges inherent in the federal disaster relief system through the passage of reactionary laws directed at resolving issues that arose in the disasters that triggered them.[95] The most recent attempt to amend the Stafford Act, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 (DRRA), was signed into law just forty-nine days before the Stafford Act’s thirtieth anniversary.[96] This section discusses five of the major challenges facing federal disaster relief before the enactment of the DRRA.

One of the biggest, if not the greatest, challenges posed by the current disaster relief framework is a lack of full and accurate records of disaster relief spending.[97] Without such knowledge, it is virtually impossible to accurately forecast annual disaster assistance needs.[98] This results in consistent under-estimation of required federal disaster assistance.[99] The process for individuals, homeowners, and small businesses to apply for disaster relief aid can be confusing and difficult, especially at such a trying time in one’s life.[100] These challenges are exacerbated by climate change as experts predict an increasing number of weather-related disasters. Further, political considerations may affect the declaration process and Congress’ ability to adequately fund relief, recovery and mitigation efforts.

A. Disaster Relief Spending is Poorly Recorded

One of the major challenges with the current federal disaster relief paradigm is that disaster relief funding is not fully recorded.[101] Assessing and improving the system is difficult without accurate accounts of which programs utilize how much aid to assist individuals, households, small businesses, or public entities.[102] “If we don’t even know how much natural disasters are costing us, then Congress is going to keep under-budgeting for disaster relief and recovery . . . .”[103]

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) assesses government-wide expenditures across various departments.[104] Despite more than seventy years of formalized federal disaster relief, its first major assessment of such spending wasn’t conducted until 2016.[105] In this assessment, the GAO found that between fiscal years 2005 and 2014, “the federal government obligated at least $277.6 billion across 17 federal departments and agencies for disaster assistance programs and activities.”[106] The report further noted that that amount was merely an estimate of the “minimum and not the total amount of disaster assistance spending by the federal government during this period because some federal departments and agencies reported that relevant obligations and expenditures for some disaster-applicable programs and activities during this time frame are not separately tracked or are not available.”[107]

At least seventeen federal departments have disaster assistance responsibilities.[108] This, in addition to a variety of legislation enacted since the Stafford Act became effective,[109] results in a current disaster relief paradigm that is not cohesive. This presents challenges when it comes to communication between federal agencies on relief efforts and coordination between agencies on who is serving those with the greatest need.

B. Insufficient Funding

When FEMA and the OMB estimate disaster relief assistance necessary for the coming year, they intentionally fail to include funding for so-called “catastrophic” disasters costing over $500 million in damages.[110] Instead, the DRF is expected to be utilized only when relatively small-scale events occur. The large events require an emergency supplemental appropriation.[111] As a result, citizens affected by the worst storms in American history receive relief only if elected representatives are in session, or can be called back, and have the political willpower to pass legislation authorizing funds specifically for the disaster in question.[112] Unfortunately, it has become increasingly difficult for members of Congress to agree on spending, and therefore, it is no longer certain that such funding will be appropriated.[113] To compound the issue, since 2001, the House of Representatives has averaged only 138 days in legislative session per year.[114]

Further, because we do not have a fully accurate picture of the aid disbursed, it is difficult to forecast exactly how much aid is required.[115] When Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast in August 2017, early estimates of the cost of the disaster grossly undercalculated actual storm damage.[116] Economic damages from storms include not only the damages directly caused by the storm’s force, but also economic costs arising from job and home loss, displacement, and temporary business closures, among others. Consequently, even after a storm has passed and the smoke has cleared it can be difficult to estimate the total amount of aid necessary.[117] Without financial reserves, victims of disasters will be left hanging—especially those who need aid most.[118]

In addition to insufficient budgeting, studies show that presidents have declared more emergencies and major disasters over the past three decades than ever before.[119] As total disaster spending increases, the federal government will be responsible for an increasing amount of the relief due to the seventy-five percent default federal cost-share. Presidents may, and historically have, provided for a higher-than-default cost-share for disaster relief in some declarations.[120] If federal disaster funding remains as-is, with the federal government footing the bill for seventy-five percent of the disaster relief efforts, it will remain difficult to budget for disaster relief because the federal cost could vary significantly.

C. Relying on Victim Action

“Beyond the immediate physical damage and loss of life, disasters can also cause long-term damage to disaster survivors and communities.”[121] Victims of a disaster are often going through some of the worst challenges they have ever faced, yet they are required to apply for federal aid at a time when they may not have the requisite paperwork, or simply are overwhelmed with the physical, emotional, and mental toll taken by the disaster itself.[122] For example, after a homeowner applies for FEMA assistance, assuming the homeowner does not have insurance, an inspector with FEMA will schedule a time to meet at and inspect the applicant homeowner’s property.[123] According to guidelines, roughly ten days later, FEMA decides whether the applicant is eligible to receive assistance. If the applicant is eligible, FEMA will either mail the applicant a check or direct deposit the funds into the applicant’s account.[124] While the applicant is waiting on FEMA’s decision, the applicant may take out loans to repair or replace the applicant’s home or personal property.[125] However, FEMA awards aid at its discretion, and if it determines an applicant is ineligible to receive federal assistance, the applicant receives a letter stating its decision to decline aid. The homeowner then has sixty days to reply by written letter sent through the postal service.[126]

Even when the disaster victim complies with the procedural requirements, FEMA still has discretion in determining who gets federal aid, and in what amount. The process just described takes time and requires a homeowner to overcome procedural hurdles; and in the midst of a catastrophe, when the system is already overworked, it can take weeks before an applicant knows if her application has been approved.[127] As of December 2017, over three months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall,

[a]bout half of those who have applied for disaster assistance from FEMA or the SBA say their application is still pending or has been denied, and many of those who were denied say they were not told the reason for the denial and were not given information on how to resubmit their application.[128]

Requiring victims to navigate such a complicated bureaucracy—likely without necessary documentation or assistance—is foolish. Additionally, even after aid has been granted and disbursed, some recipients have been asked to repay that aid due to mistakes made by FEMA agents.[129]

D. Policy and Politics

“[V]oters don’t choose a President based on how he’ll handle disasters, but if they’re faced with one, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.”[130] Political considerations permeate disaster relief and create systematic challenges that must be addressed in new disaster legislation.[131]

Several studies in recent years indicate that, to curry favor in upcoming elections, a President may declare an emergency or major disaster unnecessarily.[132] If “presidents use presidential disaster declarations as tools of reelection,”[133] they may begin to look at the declaration process as another responsibility of the campaign trail as opposed to a solemn responsibility as Chief Executive of the United States. A sheer count of the electoral map may start to favor increased declarations for wildfires, which have hit California heavily the past few years, and hurricanes, which tend to hit big electoral states like Florida and Texas, taking advantage of victims and providing a windfall to some who may not truly need relief and leaving those who do behind. Unfortunately, the Stafford Act itself may be influencing this trend in presidential declaration decision-making.[134] Further, a President is more likely to grant a governor’s request when the Governor making the request is facing reelection and is from the President’s political party.[135] Although the severity and scope of the event are undoubtedly important to a President’s declaration of a major disaster or emergency, politics may play an increasingly important role.

Politics also plays a role in the annual budgeting process for the DRF and supplemental funding efforts. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, supplemental appropriations for disaster relief were caught in the tangle of annual year-end Congressional spending battles.[136] Because the current system requires supplemental appropriations to provide relief for larger disasters, such legislation can get caught in the mires of political deadlock.[137] Some legislators may refuse to vote for aid packages assisting far-flung regions of the country unless the aid is “offset by spending cuts in other parts of the budget” while others may desire to have special projects that assist their districts included in such funding measures.[138] Regardless of the situation, relying on supplemental funding measures from legislators who have records to maintain and votes to earn is a recipe for further disaster.

Beyond political challenges in the legislature, politics plays a role in the budgeting process for the DRF at the executive level. Each time a new president is elected, he must determine his priorities for the country and submit a budget to Congress.[139] Recent presidents from both political parties have failed to prioritize federal disaster relief funding.[140] Most recently, when President Trump took office, his proposed budget cut almost $1 billion from FEMA and other disaster relief efforts; however, with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, this quickly became a political fiasco.[141] The budget resolution that actually passed “calls for a thorough review of the scope and funding levels of [several] FEMA grant programs to determine whether overlap and duplication exists.”[142] Along with the supplemental funding problems mentioned previously, this means that disaster relief programs are at the whim of our elected officials.

E. Climate Change

“[C]limate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here. It is happening now.”[143] It is scientifically accepted that climate change plays an ever-increasing role in the cost of disasters as rising global temperatures change the intensity and severity of storms.[144] Climate change not only alters the climate, but the disasters associated with the phenomenon are beginning “to alter the composition of some landscapes.”[145] In 2015, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted that “10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.”[146] In fact, extreme climate may become the “new normal.”[147] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a report noting that from the 1980s to 2010 the number of severe weather incidents which FEMA would categorize as catastrophic rose from two to more than ten per year.[148]

Due to the global nature of climate change, its problematic effects likely cannot be entirely resolved in national disaster relief legislation.[149] However, some of its negative effects may be mitigated through updated declaration criteria and increased funding not only for relief, but also for mitigation.

III. The Disaster Recovery Reform Act Purports to Address Several Changes

In 2017, the United States suffered from sixteen climate disasters exceeding $1 billion, including Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma, and the Western wildfires in California.[150] The cost of these four disasters alone is expected to exceed $238 billion.[151] More than twenty-five million Americans were affected by disasters in 2017.[152] In the aftermath of these events, the need for change was evident.[153] The Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA) of 2018 was signed into law on October 5, 2018.[154] In forty-six sections, the legislation “contains more than [fifty] provisions that require FEMA policy or regulation changes for full implementation . . . .”[155] While there is no easy solution to disaster relief challenges, the DRRA marks a badly-needed step in the right direction.

A. Hazard Mitigation

“Hazard mitigation is any action taken to reduce or eliminate long term risk to people and property from natural disasters[,]” and it is crucial to long term disaster planning.[156] It is also a central focus of the DRRA.[157] Mitigation efforts vary between regions and depend on the type of severe weather, but examples of some such techniques include reservoirs and levees, prescribed burns, and storm surge barriers.[158] Studies show that for every dollar spent on mitigation efforts preparing for earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes, at least four dollars in recovery costs is saved.[159] Despite such evidence, federal mitigation funding has not historically followed.[160] Although FEMA had previously become nimbler by “positioning assets such as food and bottled water before a disaster strikes,”[161] that alone was insufficient to prepare communities for impending disasters. In its effort to provide hazard mitigation relief, FEMA utilizes three hazard mitigation programs: the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program (PDM), and the Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (FMA).[162] Under the HMGP, FEMA provides assistance only in the aftermath of a major disaster or emergency declaration.[163] Individuals may not apply directly for HMGP funding but must go through a local government, state, tribe, or private nonprofit for funding.[164] To receive mitigation assistance, a property must have met “all applicable state and local codes and standards” before the event occurred.[165] In order for those eligible entities to obtain funding under the grant program, all but the private nonprofits must have a FEMA-approved Mitigation Plan.[166] Under the PDM, funds are provided by FEMA on an annual basis and may vary substantially.[167] Similar restrictions as to eligibility apply to grantees under the PDM as applied under the HMGP.[168]

With the passage of the DRRA, however, Congress has substantially increased funding under both the HMGP and PDM through nine provisions.[169] The law expands mitigation funding in three ways. First, it expands the types of situations in which mitigation funding is available beyond major disasters and emergencies to wildfires, windstorms, and earthquakes.[170] It also expands mitigation by providing mitigation funding to water resource development projects under the purview of the Army Corps of Engineers—not previously allowed because of an aversion to double-dipping.[171]

Second, under the DRRA, “[t]he President may set aside from the Disaster Relief Fund, with respect to each major disaster, an amount equal to six percent of the estimated aggregate amount of the grants to be made . . . for the major disaster . . . .”[172] The PEW Trust estimates that “at least $650 million could have been made available to support pre-disaster mitigation projects” if this policy had been in place before 2017.[173] The law specifically prohibits a reduction in other relief funding as a result of the allocation of the six percent mitigation.[174] However, it is important to highlight that this provision does not require or automatically create the six percent set aside from the DRF, it authorizes the President to set aside the money if he or she chooses.[175] Therefore, the utilization of this provision may be subject to the individual beliefs and the political will of the executive branch.[176] Further, it is only available for major disasters, and not emergencies or wildfires which don’t earn the label major disaster.[177]

Third, the DRRA “[a]uthorizes FEMA to provide assistance to state and local governments for building code and floodplain management ordinance administration and enforcement.”[178] By permitting federal funds “to be used to pay wages for extra hires . . . ,”[179] this bill helps to ensure that buildings receiving mitigation funding are appropriately prepared for the devastation caused by future severe weather events.

However, the Government Accountability Office notes that even with this Act’s implementation, the federal government is still financially exposed to climate change.[180] Therefore, even with these substantial improvements, more must be done to fund hazard mitigation and resilience.

B. Improving the Individual Assistance Program

The DRRA works to improve individuals’ ability to receive aid from federal funding in several ways. First, under sections 1216(a) and 1216(b) of the DRRA, an individual or household receives some protection from recoupment if they were given additional aid based on an error by FEMA, the individual or household was not at fault, and recouping the amount would be against “equity and good conscience.”[181] For grants distributed to an individual or household under the Individuals and Households Program, the DRRA also establishes a three-year statute of limitations that tolls from “the date on which the [a]gency first provides to the recipient written notification of an intent to recoup.”[182]

Section 1211 of the DRRA “[a]uthorizes FEMA to provide grants to States or tribal governments to directly administer temporary and permanent housing construction” and “[a]llows state or local governments who implement cost-effective housing solutions [to] be reimbursed, under certain conditions.”[183] Because state officials are closer to and more familiar with the communities suffering from disasters, this provision should result in a more effective and efficient grant to those in need.[184]

Section 1212 has also expanded the amount of funds individuals and households may receive.[185] “Prior to DRRA, an individual or household could receive up to $33,3000 . . . in financial assistance, including both housing assistance and other needs assistance (ONA).”[186] The DRRA expands this funding by providing that “financial assistance for repairs and replacement of housing may not exceed $34,900 . . . and separate from that, financial assistance for ONA may not exceed $34,900.”[187] Additionally, alternate housing rental assistance is no longer subject to the cap like it was prior to the DRRA, which left those with severe home damage without funds to rent other accommodations.[188]

C. Update Declaration Factors

A major challenge related to disaster relief is the effect of political considerations on disaster relief efforts.[189] These considerations can affect whether Governors make disaster requests, whether the President approves such requests, and whether legislators vote for supplemental appropriations. The DRRA took steps that would help eliminate, or at the very least minimize, political considerations in the disaster declaration process. “[T]he [a]dministrator shall review the factors considered when evaluating a request for a major disaster declaration . . . specifically the estimated cost of the assistance . . . .”[190] This language specifically focuses on public assistance declarations.[191] The current factors include (1) the estimated cost of assistance, (2) localized impacts, (3) insurance coverage in force, (4) hazard mitigation, (5) recent multiple disasters, and (6) programs of other federal assistance.[192] The estimated cost of assistance is explicitly named as a factor to be reviewed.[193] This factor requires FEMA to “evaluate the estimated cost of Federal and nonfederal public assistance against the statewide population to give some measure of the per capita impact within the State.”[194] By reevaluating these factors, especially the per capita factor, FEMA has the opportunity to create a standard for declarations that more appropriately reflects disaster realities. We can hope that, along with the updated individual assistance factors, the new public assistance factors FEMA comes up with allow for a standardized approach to disaster declarations. However, the FEMA Administrator has two years from the enactment of the DRRA to initiate the rulemaking process[195] so it is likely that this badly-needed update won’t come soon enough.

D. Updates to Some Research and Reporting Requirements

Lawmakers provided for some updates to reporting requirements under the DRRA. In section 1223, Congress requires the FEMA Administrator to coordinate with other agencies to “conduct a study and develop a plan . . . under which the collection of information from disaster assistance applicants and grantees will be modified, streamlined, expedited, efficient, flexible, consolidated, and simplified to be less burdensome, duplicative, and time consuming for applicants and grantees”[196] by October 5, 2019. It also calls for FEMA to collect better information on aid awarded and to create a website where the information collected can be provided to the public.[197] This inter-agency study should provide a much-needed look into the effectiveness of disaster assistance programs, and should highlight areas where FEMA and other governmental agencies can improve. Likewise, section 1224 requires FEMA to publish “a variety of disaster data” online.[198]

Another important update provided for in the DRRA is a requirement for FEMA to assess national preparedness.[199] In 2012, the GAO reviewed and reported on potential “duplication, overlap, and fragmentation” in federal programs and made suggestions for a national preparedness assessment.[200] The DRRA requires FEMA to follow through on the GAO’s recommendation.[201]

IV. What Remains to Be Done

Although the DRRA made significant changes to certain aspects of America’s disaster relief framework, a lot remains to be done.[202] Specifically, federal disaster relief efforts must be adequately funded through an updated system that accounts for climate change and catastrophic events. Congress must also go further to ensure that adequate reports are made and published as to disaster-related expenditures. Interactive mapping technologies should be more widely utilized so that those impacted by natural disasters, and their rescuers, can have better information as to what is happening. While the federal government is not the only source of funding for disaster mitigation, relief, and recovery efforts,[203] its efforts must be more strategic than they are now. While the DRRA went a long way in addressing many of the primary concerns with disaster relief, this section discusses areas that could use further improvement: research and reporting, budgeting, and technological innovation.

A. Continuous Research and Reporting

The federal government must improve record-keeping, research, and reporting, especially with regard to disaster relief and its associated influences, like climate change. Better records and increased assessments should be used to determine whether there is a pattern in disaster events and their costs, or in declarations themselves.[204] The GAO noted that “the federal government . . . has not implemented [its] November 2015 recommendations to create a national climate information system providing authoritative, accessible information useful for state, local, and private-sector decision making.”[205] Just as corporations have used “big data” to gain a business advantage, the federal government should utilize this type of data-gathering and reporting to better understand and respond to disasters.[206] Such data can be used by officials in the OMB and FEMA to better forecast disaster relief needs and budget accordingly.

Any data collected by FEMA regarding climate factors, and any data from other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, should embrace modern technology and share their climate-related data in an effort to predict natural disasters.[207] “Several studies and projects have already shown the positive results from big data’s utility in monitoring hazards and mitigating vulnerabilities in the case of earthquakes, floods and storms.”[208] Taking Houston as an example, even after receiving roughly $1 billion in federal long-term housing aid to recover from Hurricane Harvey, city officials estimated an unmet housing need of $2.3 billion.[209] As a result, city officials used data research “to understand the extent of the storm, how much damage the city incurred, and what parts of the city [were] still in need.”[210] By capitalizing on data modeling, cities, states, and the federal government can better predict storms and certain disasters before they occur, but also better understand, after the fact, where the most damage is most intense and which areas require the most attention.

B. Budget Accordingly

Another pillar of comprehensive disaster relief legislation should be a budget system that accurately accounts for expected and unexpected extreme weather events. Although the DRRA provides badly-needed mitigation and infrastructure improvements, America must adequately fund disaster relief, including relief for major disasters and catastrophes. According to the GAO, Congress can, and must, go further.[211]

Essential to the improved functioning of federal disaster relief is a strengthening of the DRF. Disaster funding is intentionally underestimated as it pertains to catastrophic emergencies.[212] By failing to budget for disasters costing more than $500 million, FEMA and the OMB are ignoring the reality that mega storms occur and cause catastrophic damage when they strike.[213] Considering 2018 alone saw sixty-one different major disaster declarations, legislators and agencies should consider such increasing costs in their budget calculations.[214]

Although a superstorm is not guaranteed to hit the United States every year, the federal government should maintain a policy that favors preparation and proactivity as opposed to reaction. Therefore, the OMB and FEMA should consider all disaster trends when it estimates spending for the DRF, allowing federal agencies to act in major weather events without requiring supplemental appropriations.[215] FEMA justifies its failure to include catastrophic disaster costs in its annual relief estimate by arguing that such events are “relatively infrequent.”[216] However, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, since 1980, there have been 241 weather and climate incidents with costs reaching or exceeding $1 billion; 16 of which occurred in 2017, and 14 of which occurred in 2018.[217] The report further notes that in 2018 the United States experienced the highest number of severe weather and climate events only behind the years 2011, 2016, and 2017.[218] This research, coupled with the realities of climate change, indicate that this system of relief funding is not sustainable.

By anticipating at least some number of severe storms when calculating the budget, lawmakers will be able to reduce the amount of supplemental appropriations and may be able to avoid turning disaster relief into fuel for their political fires. At the very least, FEMA needs to increase the damages for which it categorizes a severe storm deserving of DRF funds because its current limit, $500 million,[219] is a relatively small sum.[220]

C. Harness Technology

In addition, the big data on severe storms should be shared with Americans so that, as they are making big life decisions, they can be well-informed. Unfortunately, this data would not have changed the result for Houstonians after Hurricane Harvey; many houses flooded during the Hurricane even though they were not located in 100-year flood plains.[221] After Hurricane Harvey, NASA created new surface flooding maps of the areas most affected by the storm.[222] Maps like this, and other interactive initiatives, must be readily available to the public to keep them informed during emergencies and major disasters.

In this effort, federal agencies should partner with private or other public organizations to create maps like Houston’s TranStar Traffic Map,[223] which allows Houstonians to safely navigate the roads by showing which roads have dangerous conditions. Such maps could include symbols for many types of hazards such as flooding and high water, mud, or earthquake damages. These maps would also allow emergency officials and first responders to have a better idea of which areas need assistance and medical care. Although FEMA has a mobile application that contains weather alerts, preparation advice, and disaster resources, the emergency management framework would benefit from the development of an application containing interactive maps that can be utilized in disasters and emergencies nationwide. The map could be restricted to show only the surrounding region via GPS location or expanded to see disaster effects on a nationwide scale. Through partnerships with local and state relief efforts, and civilians,[224] assistance may be provided to those in need at a lower cost. Investment in this type of technology, had it existed, might have avoided some of the catastrophic loss-of-life experienced in Hurricane Katrina.[225]

V. Conclusion

The federal disaster relief paradigm has historically been insufficient at providing necessary relief to the victims of increasingly numerous emergencies and disasters in the United States. Over time, FEMA, the primary federal disaster relief agency, has endured major changes, not only to its policy, but also to its bureaucratic structure. With the passage of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, Congress enacted a much-needed update to the 30-year-old Stafford Act, the framework for modern federal disaster relief. While this new legislation addresses serious inadequacies, the legislation does not provide an adequate match to every challenge. As a result, it likely will not be sufficient to completely relieve America’s disaster relief concerns. However, it marks a much-needed first step towards accepting the realities of increasing major disasters and the need to not only adequately fund disaster relief but also to prepare communities for what lies ahead.


  1. Nan D. Hunter, The Law of Emergencies 189–90 (2009); Anna Marie Baca, History of Disaster Legislation, FEMA, Sept. 2008, at 1, https://www.fema.gov/pdf/dae/200809.pdf
    [https://perma.cc/8LPG-9YPN] (“The inefficiency and inconsistencies of passing an individual law every time a community was in distress prompted Congress to enact the Federal Disaster Relief Program.”). See generally Bruce R. Lindsay & Justin Murray, Disaster Relief Funding and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations, in Disaster Relief: Organizations, Speed and Efficiency of Response and Roles 71, 75 (Kristin O. Reed ed., 2011) (ebook) (describing the Federal Disaster Relief Act of 1950).

  2. Hunter, supra note 1, at 190; see also Projects & Studies: Addicks Reservoir, Harris County Flood Control District, https://www.hcfcd.org/projects-studies/addicks-reservoir/ [https://perma.cc/26H7-TEDM] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (describing the 1940s Addicks Reservoir flood control project).

  3. Federal Disaster Act, Pub. L. No. 81-875, 64 Stat. 1109 (1950) (“To authorize Federal assistance to States and local governments in major disasters . . . .”); R. Steven Daniels, The Rise of Politics and the Decline of Vulnerability as Criteria in Disaster Decisions of the United States, 1953–2009, 37 Disasters 669, 670 (2013); Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75. The Federal Disaster Act is sometimes referred to as the Federal Disaster Relief Program, the Federal Disaster Relief Act, The Federal Disaster Assistance Program. See generally Baca, supra note 1, at 1 (using the term Federal Disaster Relief Program); Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75 (using the term Federal Disaster Relief Act).

  4. Daniels, supra note 3, at 670; see also Baca, supra note 1, at 1 (stating that Congress enacted the program in 1950).

  5. Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75–76. See generally William L. Painter, Cong. Research Serv., R45484, The Disaster Relief Fund: Overview and Issues 8–10 (2019) (discussing the enactment of the Disaster Relief Act of 1950 and subsequent legislative developments).

  6. Federal Disaster Act § 5, 64 Stat. at 1110; see also Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75; FEMA, A Citizen’s Guide to Disaster Assistance 3-1 to 3-2 (2003), https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/is7unit_3.pdf [https://perma.cc/SS6Y-WCNZ].

  7. Federal Disaster Act § 1, 64 Stat. at 1109; Baca, supra note 1, at 1.

  8. Hunter, supra note 1, at 190.

  9. Disaster Relief Act of 1966, Pub. L. No. 89-769, 80 Stat. 1316; Baca, supra note 1, at 1. Prior to the DRA of 1966, the disaster framework was not equipped to handle large-scale, catastrophic disasters. Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75.

  10. FEMA, Animals in Disaster A-3-4, https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/downloads/is10_unit3.doc [https://perma.cc/G7T4-G35P] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019). FEMA guidelines indicate response and recovery are the last two stages of the four phases of emergency management. Id. at A-3-1 to A-3-3.

  11. 1972 – Hurricane AgnesHurricanes: Sci. & Soc’y, http://www.hurricanescience.org/history/storms/1970s/agnes/ [https://perma.cc/G2NR-KUSW] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  12. Hurricane Agnes, Nat’l Weather Serv., https://www.weather.gov/ctp/Agnes [https://perma.cc/MM7U-TBEE] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  13. James F. Miskel, Disaster Response and Homeland Security: What Works, What Doesn’t 57 (2008). “The disaster effects were so serious that the governors of the most-affected states (Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania) held a summit in Harrisburg[, Pennsylvania] on June 26, day three of the rainfall, to discuss the adequacy of federal assistance.” Id. at 60.

  14. Disaster Relief Act Amendments of 1974, Pub. L. 93-288, 88 Stat. 143; President Richard Nixon, Statement About the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 (May 22, 1974), https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/statement-about-the-disaster-relief-act-1974 [https://perma.cc/27JR-PN6B] (noting that he had declared more than 180 major disasters since his inauguration).

  15. Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75; Daniels, supra note 3, at 670 (explaining that assistance was provided to individuals via the creation of the Individual and Family Grant Program within FDAP).

  16. Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75; Daniels, supra note 3, at 670.

  17. After the 1974 DRA amendments, “more than 100 federal agencies were involved in some aspect of disasters, hazards and emergencies.” About the Agency, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/about-agency [https://perma.cc/6JSW-GHSR] (last updated Jan. 30, 2019).

  18. Exec. Order No. 12148, 3 C.F.R. § 412 (1979), reprinted as amended in 50 U.S.C. § 2251 (1988 & Supp. V 1988) (explaining authority for the Executive Order, President Carter cited the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 and the DRA of 1974, among other laws); Jane. A. Bullock, George D. Haddow & Damon P. Coppola, Homeland Security 18–19 (2013).

  19. About the Agency, supra note 17 (“President Carter’s 1979 executive order merged many of the separate disaster-related responsibilities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”).

  20. FEMA Regional Offices, FEMA, https://emilms.fema.gov/IS101c/DEP0101150text.htm [https://perma.cc/G6SQ-UEVD] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  21. Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Pub. L. No. 100-707, 102 Stat. 4689 (1988) (amending Pub. L. No. 93-288, 88 Stat. 143). The Stafford Act may periodically be referred to by citation to its section in the U.S. Code (42 U.S.C. § 5121 et seq.).

  22. Hunter, supra note 1, at 189; Kurt Johnson, Disaster Response: Key Legal Issues for US Northern Command, 83 Int’l L. Stud. 277, 278 (2007); About the Agency, supra note 17. It has been amended over the years, most recently in October 2018. See infra Section III.

  23. See Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Pub. L. No. 100-707, 102 Stat. 4689.

  24. See Daniels, supra note 3, at 670.

  25. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster
    Assistance
    , FEMA, at 1, https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1536-20490-8240/dec_proc.pdf [https://perma.cc/H3KK-89RF] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  26. 42 U.S.C. § 5170 (2012 & Supp. V 2018); id. § 5187; Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 75.

  27. Thomas Husted & David Nickerson, Political Economy of Presidential Disaster Declarations and Federal Disaster Assistance, 42 Pub. Fin. Rev. 35, 53 n.6 (2014) (“The Homeland Security Act of 2002 made FEMA a quasi-independent sub-agency within the Department of Homeland Security.”); Richard T. Sylves, Declaring Catastrophies [sic]: Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, Pub. Manager, Fall 2010, at 47; A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25; Keith Bea, Cong. Research Serv., RL 31510, Proposed Transfer of FEMA to the Department of Homeland Security 1 (2002).

  28. Press Release, The White House: President George W. Bush, Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD–5 (Feb. 28, 2003), https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030228-9.html [https://perma.cc/PXB2-YZUX] [hereinafter HSPD-5].

  29. See Hunter, supra note 1, at 241–43 (quoting HSPD-5, supra note 28). A prior version of the NRP, the Federal Response Plan, was created by FEMA in April 1992. Bruce R. Lindsay, The National Response Framework: Overview and Possible Issues for Congress, in Disaster Relief: Organizations, Speed and Efficiency of Response and Roles 161, 163–64 (Kristin O. Reed ed., 2011) (ebook).

  30. E.g., The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned 15 (2006), http://library.stmarytx.edu/acadlib/edocs/katrinawh.pdf [https://perma.cc/HC8R-543R].

  31. See, e.g., id.

  32. Keith Bea, Federal Stafford Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential Declarations, Eligible Ctivities [sic], and Funding, in Disaster Relief: Organizations, Speed and Efficiency of Response and Roles 113, 116 (Kristin O. Reed ed., 2011) (ebook) (“Congress expanded the authority of FEMA to provide assistance and imposed requirements on federal officials to ensure that effective pre-disaster preparation actions would be taken.”); Hunter, supra note 1, at 190; Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 76 (noting that in this Act, “Congress expanded the authority of the FEMA administrator, authorized accelerated federal aid, and raised some ceilings on federal assistance” in addition to requiring that FEMA report on the disaster relief fund to Congress monthly).

  33. Hunter, supra note 1, at 244, 248.

  34. Id. at 248; Lindsay, supra note 29, at 165.

  35. Hunter, supra note 1, at 249–50 (noting that FEMA takes the lead on emergency management and assistance, the Army Corps of Engineers takes the lead for public works and engineering, DHS takes the lead on communications, the Department of Justice remains the law enforcement arm, and finally military troops follow their own chain of command).

  36. Id. at 250.

  37. Id. at 249 (noting that a “catastrophic incident” is “any natural or manmade incident, including terrorism, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions”).

  38. The Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 was enacted as Division A and the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 was enacted as Division B. Pub. L. No. 113-2, 127 Stat. 4 (2013).

  39. Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/sandy-recovery-improvement-act-2013 [https://perma.cc/9BJV-4NV7] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019). Specifically, the law required FEMA to examine and update the factors that warrant the declaration of a major disaster and the need for individual assistance. See infra Section III.C.

  40. 42 U.S.C. § 5170 (2012 & Supp. V 2018).

  41. Id.; The Disaster Declaration Process, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/disaster-declaration-process [https://perma.cc/SDK9-R95U] (last updated Jan. 8, 2018) (“A State also includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. The Republic of Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are also eligible to request a declaration and receive assistance through the Compacts of Free Association.”).

  42. See The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41 (“Together, the team will conduct a thorough assessment of the impacted area to determine the extent of the disaster, its impact on individuals and public facilities, and the types of federal assistance that may be needed.”). While the PDA typically must be completed prior to a major disaster declaration, when an event is obviously severe or catastrophic, a request may be submitted before the PDA is completed. Id.

  43. 42 U.S.C. § 5170; Hunter, supra note 1, at 192. If the Governor is requesting only an emergency declaration, she need not specify the exact state and local resources committed to the relief effort. Id. A cost-share indicates what percentage of the relief will be borne by the federal government and what percentage will be borne by state and local governments. Cost Sharing, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/hmgp-appeal-keywords/9124 [https://perma.cc/KWM3-YY3K] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

    The authority to adjust the Public Assistance cost share resides with the President. FEMA will recommend an increase in the federal share to not more than 90% for Public Assistance when a disaster is so extraordinary that actual federal obligations under the Stafford Act, excluding administrative cost, meet or exceed a qualifying threshold.

    The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41 (citing 44 C.F.R. § 206.47(b) (2011)). The qualifying threshold “is adjusted annually for inflation using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.” Id. at n.7.

  44. 42 U.S.C. §§ 5170, 5191; Hunter, supra note 1, at 191–92.

  45. The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41.

  46. See generally 44 C.F.R. § 206.38(a) (2018) (even if a Governor requests a major disaster declaration, the President may choose to only declare an emergency); 44 C.F.R. § 206.40(a) (“The Assistant Administrator for the Disaster Assistance Directorate may authorize all, or only particular types of, supplementary Federal assistance requested by the Governor.”).

  47. Hunter, supra note 1, at 192.

  48. Husted & Nickerson, supra note 27, at 38 n.7.

  49. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 5170a(1), 5192(a)(1); 44 C.F.R. § 206.40 (noting how the Assistant Administrator for the Disaster Assistance Directorate determines and designates the “types of assistance to be made available” and “the affected areas eligible for supplementary Federal assistance under the Stafford Act”); Bea, supra note 32, at 124; Morgan Robinson, Understanding FEMA Disaster Declarations, PolicyMap (Aug. 26, 2015), https://www.policymap.com/2015/08/fema-disaster-declarations/ [https://perma.cc/4XQB-A9SK]. Further, the Assistant Administrator has authority to approve a Governor’s request for “additional areas or types of supplemental Federal assistance.” 44 C.F.R. § 206.40.

  50. See 44 C.F.R. § 206.46 (2018); Daniels, supra note 3, at 670; The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41.

  51. 44 C.F.R. § 206.46. This is a one-time request for consideration which, if denied, may not be made again. Id.

  52. 42 U.S.C. § 5170.

  53. Id. § 5191(a). Both emergency and major disaster declarations require Presidential approval. Bruce R. Lindsay & Francis X. McCarthy, Cong. Research Serv., R42702, Stafford Act Declarations 1953-2014: Trends, Analyses, and Implications for Congress 2 (2015).

  54. 42 U.S.C. § 5191(b). A President may make an emergency assistance declaration pursuant to § 5191(b) when “he determines an emergency exists for which the primary responsibility for response rests with the United States because the emergency involves a subject area for which . . . the United States exercises exclusive or preeminent responsibility and authority.” Id.

  55. Fire Management Assistance Grant Program, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/fire-management-assistance-grant-program [https://perma.cc/5SDP-BXTV] (last updated Oct. 26, 2015).

  56. 42 U.S.C. § 5122(2).

  57. Hunter, supra note 1, at 194. Available aid for major disasters includes: general federal assistance; essential assistance; hazard mitigation; repair, restoration, and replacement of federal and state or local damaged facilities; debris removal; individual or household; unemployment; grants to migrant or seasonal farmworkers; food coupons, distribution, and commodities; legal services; crisis counseling; community disaster loans to local governments; emergency communications; and emergency public transportation. Bea, supra note 32, at 125–27.

  58. Lindsay & McCarthy, supra note 53, at 9–10; see also The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41 (explaining the requirements and assistance available for major disaster and emergency declarations).

  59. Sylves, supra note 27, at 47 (“FEMA considers every major disaster that exceeds $580 million in federal spending to be a ‘catastrophe.’”). Note that this is federal spending and does not include state and local spending or other unquantified costs.

  60. 42 U.S.C. § 5122(1). Emergency declaration assistance might include: relief coordination; support of state and local relief efforts; “technical and advisory assistance”; emergency assistance; debris removal; individual or household housing grants; and medicine and food distribution. Bea, supra note 32, at 127 (citation omitted).

  61. See Sylves, supra note 27, at 46; The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41.

  62. Lindsay & McCarthy, supra note 53, at 7.

  63. Bea, supra note 32, at 127–29.

  64. 42 U.S.C. §§ 5170b(b), 5193(a); 44 C.F.R. § 206.47 (2018).

  65. John Kruzel, How the U.S. Funds Disaster Recovery, PolitiFact (Sept. 14, 2017), http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/sep/14/how-us-funds-disaster-recovery/ [https://perma.cc/FZA3-XCLU].

  66. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 2, 5; Hunter, supra note 1, at 205. But see Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-254, § 1210(b)(1), 132 Stat. 3186 (2018) (allowing for public assistance duplication in instances where a project may also be funded by the Army Corps of Engineers).

  67. See supra note 49 and accompanying text.

  68. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 5 (noting that most private nonprofits must first apply through the SBA but those providing “critical services . . . may apply directly to FEMA . . . .”). A public entity provides “goods or services to the public.” Hunter, supra note 1, at 205 (noting further that private non-governmental entities, like nonprofits, may only receive public assistance if they “provide[] essential, government-type services and [are] open to the general public without exception.”). Additionally, the Stafford Act “added certain private nonprofit organizations that provide essential government services to the category of eligible recipients of [] public assistance.” Bea, supra note 32, at 132 (citation omitted).

  69. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 5 (noting additionally that all public assistance projects fall into one of seven categories).

  70. Bea, supra note 32, at 123–24 (explaining that the factors include the impact of the disaster on a per capita basis, insurance coverage, hazard mitigation measures already in place, “the cumulative impact of disasters over the previous year,” and whether non-Stafford Act federal aid is more appropriate for the affected areas); The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41 (listing the factors FEMA considers when making recommendations to the President). But see infra Section III.C (noting that FEMA must review the factors and initiate rulemaking by October 5, 2020).

  71. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 2–4 (noting that unemployment assistance, free legal services, special tax considerations, and crisis counseling are offered; and that crisis counseling is available either for immediate mental health needs, or for up to nine months and include community outreach, consultation, and education). “For high-impact events where the level of damage to residences is empirically overwhelming, the declaration may also include Individual Assistance.” The Disaster Declaration Process, supra note 41.

  72. Press Release, FEMA, Use FEMA Disaster Funds Wisely (Nov. 23, 2012), https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2012/11/23/use-fema-disaster-funds-wisely [https://perma.cc/T84U-892Y]; A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 3. Other needs assistance “includes medical, dental, funeral, personal property, transportation, moving and storage, and other expenses that FEMA approves.” Id. In order to be eligible for other needs assistance, the individual or homeowner may be required to apply for an SBA loan first. Id.

  73. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 2–3; Hunter, supra note 1, at 196. But see infra Section III.B (FEMA must now work with state and local organizations providing direct housing relief to survivors).

  74. Disaster Loan Assistance, U.S. Small Bus. Admin., https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Information/Index [https://perma.cc/VYX4-RRXM] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  75. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 3.

  76. See Bea, supra note 32, at 124–25 (noting that the factors include: the scope of the disaster, including overall injuries and concentration of damages; whether populations requiring higher levels of assistance are impacted; whether other agencies and nonprofit organizations can fulfill victim needs; insurance; and housing considerations); see also infra Section III.C (The SRIA required FEMA to review and initiate rulemaking updating these factors. The new rule becomes effective June 1, 2019.).

  77. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance, supra note 25, at 5 (noting that hazard mitigation funding is provided for in two sections of the Stafford Act—sections 404 and 406).

  78. Id. at 5–6 (stating that the state’s twenty-five percent cost-share may be any combination of cash or in-kind support).

  79. Id. at 6 (explaining that states must review and update their State Mitigation Plan every three years). A state that develops an Enhanced State Mitigation Plan becomes eligible for a twenty percent increase in its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding. Id.

  80. Id.; see infra Section III.A for a longer discussion of hazard mitigation efforts.

  81. Bruce R. Lindsay, Cong. Research Serv., R43537, FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund: Overview and Selected Issues 4 (2014); Lisa Desjardins, How the U.S. Funds Disaster Recovery and What it Means for Harvey Relief, Hous. Pub. Media (Sept. 1, 2017), http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/u-s-funds-disaster-recovery-means-harvey-relief/ [https://perma.cc/Z3RQ-6TMY]. For fiscal year 2017, the DRF had base funding of $615 million and major declaration funding of $6.7 billion for a total of $7.3 billion. Kruzel, supra note 65.

  82. Bea, supra note 32, at 131.

  83. Bruce R. Lindsay et al., Cong. Research Serv., R42352, An Examination of Federal Disaster Relief Under the Budget Control Act 2–3 (2013); Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 76–77.

  84. Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 76; see also The Mission and Structure of the Office of Management and Budget, White House: President Barack Obama, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/omb/organization_mission/ [https://perma.cc/5JLG-3SN5] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (outlining the OMB’s budget formulation and execution procedures).

  85. Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 72.

  86. Id. at 71.

  87. See id.

  88. Id. at 77.

  89. Desjardins, supra note 81 (“Hurricanes have received the largest number of [supplemental] spending bills.”).

  90. See FEMA, U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., Disaster Relief Fund: FY 2018 Funding Requirements 4 (2017), https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/FEMA - Disaster Relief Fund - FY 2018 Funding Requirements.pdf [https://perma.cc/K8WH-RTU5]; FEMA, U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., Disaster Relief Fund: FY 2017 Funding Requirements 4 (2016), https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/FEMA - Disaster Relief Fund - Annual Report - FY 2017 Funding Requirements_0.pdf [https://perma.cc/G42E-LTAA].

  91. Daniels, supra note 3, at 670; Evan Andrews, Who Invented the Internet?, Hist. Stories (Dec. 18, 2013), http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-invented-the-internet [https://perma.cc/S7HH-28D7].

  92. See Hubble EssentialsHubblesite: Telescope, http://hubblesite.org/the_telescope/hubble_essentials/ [https://perma.cc/W5JP-LP92] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  93. See Persian Gulf War, Hist., http://www.history.com/topics/persian-gulf-war [https://perma.cc/GNH9-9TFU] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  94. See Niv M. Sultan, Harvey, Maria, and the Political Aftermath of Natural Disasters, N.Y.U. News (Oct. 10, 2017), https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2017/october/jacob-remes-on-maria-and-disaster-relief.html [https://perma.cc/QJ2R-86TZ].

  95. See supra Section I.B (chronicling the passage of the Stafford Act and a few key amendments).

  96. The Stafford Act became law on November 23, 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-707, 102 Stat. 4689 (1988), while the DRRA was passed on October 5, 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-254, 132 Stat. 3186 (2018).

  97. See infra Section II.A. However, this may be changing as the OMB issued a memorandum on February 2, 2018, which requires federal agencies receiving disaster relief funding to track such expenditures and notes that “[a]gencies should not limit the reporting to any one specific event and should report all funding that is designated as disaster or emergency for each public law, regardless of what it is used for.” Memorandum from Mick Mulvaney, Dir., Office of Mgmt. & Budget, to Chief Fin. Officers & Budget Officers (Feb. 2, 2018), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/M-18-08.pdf [https://perma.cc/37VA-Z4JB].

  98. See infra Section II.A.

  99. See infra Section II.A.

  100. See infra Section II.C.

  101. See U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-16-797, Federal Disaster Assistance: Federal Departments and Agencies Obligated at Least $277.6 Billion During Fiscal Years 2005 Through 2014, at 12 (2016) (noting that the GAO could not completely tally the federal disaster relief expenditure).

  102. See Brad Plumer, The Government is Spending Way More on Disaster Relief than Anybody Thought, Wash. Post (Apr. 29, 2013), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/04/29/the-government-is-spending-way-more-on-disaster-relief-than-anybody-thought/?utm_term=.14ff5b2a14b4 [https://perma.cc/2YPW-PYYG].

  103. Id. (quoting Daniel J. Weiss of the Center for American Progress).

  104. Cf. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-17-333SP, Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs (2017) (assessing selected weapons program); U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-17-244SP, Contracting Data Analysis: Assessment of Government-wide Trends (2017) (assessing contracts); U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-16-156R, Space Acquisitions: GAO Assessment of DOD Responsive Launch Report (2015) (assessing space acquisitions); Technology & Science, U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., https://www.gao.gov/technology_assessment/key_reports [https://perma.cc/ACH8-C95A] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (assessing technology).

  105. See U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-16-797, supra note 101. This report was “a first-of-its-kind comprehensive look at federal expenditures” in the disaster relief space. Ingrid Schroeder, We Don’t Know How Much We Spend on Disasters, and That Needs to Change, Hill (Nov. 22, 2016), http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/energy-environment/307119-we-dont-know-how-much-we-spend-on-disasters-and-that [https://perma.cc/B5MM-98R5].

  106. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-16-797, supra note 101, at 12–13 (defining an obligation as a definite commitment of funds).

  107. Id. at 12.

  108. Id.

  109. See supra Section I.B.

  110. See Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 76–77. According to this system, the standing DRF is not meant to fund relief from several severe weather events which occurred in 2017 and 2018 including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Florence; wildfires in California; extreme droughts throughout Southwestern and plains states; severe hail and wind in Texas; flooding in the Midwest; and tornados in the South. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Table of Events, NOAA Nat’l Ctrs. for Envtl. Info., https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/1980-2017 [https://perma.cc/85JR-7YTV] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (cataloguing disasters with an economic impact greater than $1 billion).

  111. Cong. Research Serv., R43665, Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Assistance: Summary Data and Analysis 3–7 (2014); Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 77.

  112. See Susan Milligan, Playing Games with a Disaster, U.S. News & World Rep. (Sept. 30, 2016), https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-09-30/the-partisan-politics-of-disaster-relief.

  113. Scott Detrow, Why Approving Emergency Funding for Harvey Might Not Be Easy for Congress, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Aug. 30, 2017), https://www.npr.org/2017/08/30/547126814/why-approving-emergency-funding-for-harvey-might-not-be-easy-for-congress [https://perma.cc/PB4H-KBGN].

  114. Tom Murse, How Many Days Congress Works in a Year, ThoughtCo., https://www.thoughtco.com/average-number-of-legislative-days-3368250 [https://perma.cc/4ECN-NB45] (last updated Oct. 4, 2018); see also Days in Session of the U.S. Congress, Congress.gov, https://www.congress.gov/days-in-session/1 [https://perma.cc/6SG9-MBEJ] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (depicting Congress’ days in session for the first and second sessions of the 115th Congress).

  115. See generally Schroeder, supra note 105 (“[A] complete tally of total public disaster-related spending in the United States does not exist.”).

  116. See Alana Semuels, How a Disaster’s Economic Impacts Are Calculated, Atlantic (Aug. 29, 2017), https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/08/harvey-economic-impacts/538353/ [https://perma.cc/U9WZ-B7DU].

  117. See id.

  118. See generally 10 Years After Katrina, N.Y. Times (Aug. 26, 2015), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/08/26/us/ten-years-after-katrina.html [https://perma.cc/5ZXA-4BUB] (“As before, there are two cities here. One is booming, more vibrant than ever, still beautiful in its best-known neighborhoods and expanding into places once written off; the other is returning to pre-Katrina realities of poverty and routine violence, but with a new sense of dislocation for many as well.”).

  119. Lindsay & McCarthy, supra note 53, at 7–10 (noting that the average number of major disasters increased from forty-six in the 1990s to fifty-six in the 2000s and to sixty-seven from 2010 to 2014; likewise, the average number of emergency declarations increased from six in the 1990s to fifteen in the 2000s).

  120. Press Release, The White House, President Donald J. Trump Amends California Disaster Declaration (Nov. 22, 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-amends-california-disaster-declaration/ [https://perma.cc/9U82-BM6X]; Press Release, The White House, President Donald J. Trump Amends Texas Disaster Declaration (Sept. 2, 2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-amends-texas-disaster-declaration/ [https://perma.cc/2VTU-CV6S]; see Press Release, FEMA, Federal Cost-Share for Sandy Cleanup, Rebuilding Projects in New York Increased to 90 Percent (May 24, 2013), https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2013/05/24/federal-cost-share-sandy-cleanup-rebuilding-projects-new-york-increased-90 [https://perma.cc/RQB6-5URF].

  121. Cecilia Hyunjung Mo & Katrina Kosec, Natural Disasters Damage Victims’ Goals and Ambitions—Which is Why Disaster Relief Is so Important, Wash. Post (Oct. 26, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/10/26/natural-disasters-damage-victims-goals-and-ambitions-which-is-why-disaster-relief-is-so-important/?utm_term=.ac20bdba3146 [https://perma.cc/6YDS-558H].

  122. See Nadine Brozan, Emotional Effects of Natural Disasters, N.Y. Times (June 27, 1983), http://www.nytimes.com/1983/06/27/style/emotional-effects-of-natural-disasters.html [https://perma.cc/4568-F2PX]; Effects of Disasters: Risk and Resilience Factors, U.S. Dep’t Veterans Aff., https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/types/disaster_risk_resilence.asp [https://perma.cc/L9ZP-5FYP] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019). “Considering that only around 4 in 10 Americans have $1,000 in savings to rely on in emergencies, even fewer have the resources needed to recover from a natural disaster in which they lose their homes and belongings.” Clay Kerchof, DRRA Signed into Law, Authorizes New Resources for Mitigation and Disaster Recovery, Enterprise (Oct. 22, 2018), https://www.enterprisecommunity.org/blog/2018/10/drra-signed-law-authorizes-new-resources-mitigation-and-disaster-recovery [https://perma.cc/X9RJ-UT7M].

  123. Financial Assistance After a Disaster, USA.gov, https://www.usa.gov/disaster-financial-help [https://perma.cc/3GU9-AGTL] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (noting that victims are expected to be present for their property’s inspection and provide a photo ID and proof of occupancy or ownership, among other things); Frequently Asked Questions About FEMA Disaster Assistance, Ins. Info. Inst., https://www.iii.org/article/frequently-asked-questions-about-fema-disaster-assistance [https://perma.cc/2DWW-SDR9] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  124. Frequently Asked Questions About FEMA Disaster Assistance, supra note 123.

  125. Financial Assistance After a Disaster, supra note 123.

  126. Frequently Asked Questions About FEMA Disaster Assistance, supra note 123.

  127. Manny Fernandez, Lizette Alvarez & Ron Nixon, Still Waiting for FEMA in Texas and Florida After Hurricanes, N.Y. Times (Oct. 22, 2017), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/22/us/fema-texas-florida-delays-.html [https://perma.cc/A32J-WBEX].

  128. Liz Hamel et al., Kaiser Family Found. & Episcopal Health Found., An Early Assessment of Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Vulnerable Texans in the Gulf Coast Region 1 (2017), http://files.kff.org/attachment/Report-An-Early-Assessment-of-Hurricane-Harveys-Impact-on-Vulnerable-Texans-in-the-Gulf [https://perma.cc/6X8G-8LAQ].

  129. Jean Mikle & Russ Zimmer, FEMA Asks Some Sandy Aid Recipients to Give It Back, USA Today (Nov. 29, 2014), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/29/fema-wants-some-sandy-victims-to-return-aid-/19669243/ [https://perma.cc/4YAL-8GZL]. But see David Hammer, FEMA Says It Will Work to Waive Repayment Demands for Those Who Got Too Much Money, Times-Picayune (Jan. 10, 2012), https://www.nola.com/katrina/index.ssf/2012/01/fema_says_it_will_work_to_waiv.html [https://perma.cc/SXU6-TRCG]; infra notes 181–82 and accompanying text.

  130. Bill Clinton, My Life 428 (2004).

  131. Daniels, supra note 3, at 671 (“[D]isasters have a number of political characteristics that make them ideal arenas for political intervention and selective application of emergency management principles.”).

  132. See Thomas A. Garrett & Russell S. Sobel, The Political Economy of FEMA Disaster Payments, 41 Econ. Inquiry 496, 504–05 (2003); Husted & Nickerson, supra note 27, at 51; Andrew Reeves, Political Disaster: Unilateral Powers, Electoral Incentives, and Presidential Disaster Declarations, 73 J. Pol. 1142, 1148 (2011); Richard Sylves & Zoltán I. Búzás, Presidential Disaster Declaration Decisions, 1953-2003: What Influences Odds of Approval, 39 St. & Loc. Gov’t Rev. 3, 6 (2007).

  133. Reeves, supra note 132, at 1148. “Voters reward presidents for disaster declarations to the tune of over [one percent] at the ballot box.” Id. at 1142; see Husted & Nickerson, supra note 27, at 51.

  134. Daniels, supra note 3, at 681–82 (noting that more disaster relief requests and declarations were made after the enactment of the Stafford Act in 1988, and that accordingly, the number of request denials declined).

  135. Husted & Nickerson, supra note 27, at 51.

  136. Kevin Diaz, Harvey Aid Falls ‘Hostage’ to Year-End Spending Battles in Congress, Hous. Chron. (Nov. 30, 2017), http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Harvey-aid-falls-hostage-to-year-end-spending-12396609.php [https://perma.cc/9E6J-E7K6].

  137. See id.

  138. Id.

  139. Budget Process, Nat’l Priorities Project, https://www.nationalpriorities.org/budget-basics/federal-budget-101/federal-budget-process/ [https://perma.cc/CTN5-S2GB] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  140. “President Obama . . . faced criticism for efforts to push disaster rebuilding costs back on to states and towns.” Ian Salisbury, President Trump’s Budget Would Cut Hundreds of Millions from Disaster Relief Programs, Money (Aug. 28, 2017), http://time.com/money/4918458/trump-budget-targest-disaster-response/ [https://perma.cc/73FT-S3EV] (noting however that FEMA’s budget has steadily increased since its creation in the 1970s to more than $10 billion by the 2010s). “When President Trump released his proposed budget [in May 2017], it included cuts across the board – including hundreds of millions from programs that help Americans cope with disasters like Hurricane Harvey.” Id.

  141. See Alan Fram & Andrew Taylor, House Republicans’ Spending Bill Includes FEMA Cuts to Fund Trump’s Border Wall, Bos. Globe (Aug. 30, 2017), https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2017/08/30/house-republicans-spending-bill-includes-fema-cuts-fund-trump-border-wall/VSf07WfdiwyhOFOoOKZ7pL/story.html [https://perma.cc/A9CW-B56S].

  142. H.R. Rep. No. 115-240, at 119 (2017).

  143. President Barack Obama, Remarks by the President at the GLACIER Conference (Aug. 31, 2015), https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/01/remarks-president-glacier-conference-anchorage-ak [https://perma.cc/62YU-KSQ2].

  144. The Impact of Climate Change on Natural Disasters, NASA: Earth Observatory (Mar. 30, 2005), https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/RisingCost/rising_cost5.php [https://perma.cc/M53S-6KS8].

  145. Fernanda Santos, Dry Days Bring Ferocious Start to Fire Season, N.Y. Times (Aug. 1, 2015), https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/us/dry-days-in-west-bring-ferocious-start-to-fire-season.html [https://perma.cc/3JMK-TGWE] (discussing “the Bandelier National Monument, near Los Alamos, N.M., where two fires, in 2000 and 2011, sterilized the ground, leaving huge patches of forest entirely denuded, including one measuring about 30,000 acres”).

  146. Id.

  147. Id. Across the West, as of 2015, states received precipitation twenty inches below normal while summer temperatures reached up to ten degrees Fahrenheit above average. Id.

  148. Plumer, supra note 102 (“A January [2013] draft assessment by the U.S. Global Change Research program found that heat waves, heavy downpours, and even severe droughts have become more frequent in certain parts of the country over the past 50 years.”).

  149. The Global Climate Change Regime, Council on Foreign Rel. (June 19, 2013), https://www.cfr.org/report/global-climate-change-regime [https://perma.cc/BUK9-93MD].

  150. Adam B. Smith, 2017 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: A Historic Year in Context, Climate.gov (Jan. 8, 2018), https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/beyond-data/2017-us-billion-dollar-weather-and-climate-disasters-historic-year [https://perma.cc/G8ZM-9TWU] (“2017 ties 2011 for the highest number of billion-dollar disasters for a single year.”). This does not account for the fact that the analysis performed typically categorizes billion-dollar wildfire events as “regional-scale, seasonal events, not as multiple isolated events.” Id.

  151. Id. (adding the cost of $125 billion for Hurricane Harvey, $50 billion for Hurricane Irma, $90 billion for Hurricane Maria, and $18 billion for the Western wildfires).

  152. Press Release, FEMA, FEMA Reflects on Historic Year (Dec. 29, 2017), https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2017/12/29/fema-reflects-historic-year [https://perma.cc/5VT2-L57H].

  153. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-18-472, 2017 Hurricanes and Wildfires: Initial Observations on the Federal Response and Key Recovery Challenges 39 (2018) (“The 2017 hurricanes and wildfires reaffirmed the existence of some long-standing response and recovery challenges, but also highlighted several new challenges . . . .”). But see id. at 19–20 (noting that the response to the hurricanes in Texas and Florida and the wildfires in California “show progress made since the 2006 Post-Katrina Act,” excluding the response to hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands).

  154. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-254, 132 Stat. 3186 (2018).

  155. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/disaster-recovery-reform-act-2018 (last updated Mar. 26, 2019) [https://perma.cc/59BB-MJQ5] [hereinafter FEMA’s DRRA Explanation].

  156. Hazard Mitigation Assistance, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/hazard-mitigation-assistance [https://perma.cc/C3B3-NEHG] (last updated Dec. 18, 2018).

  157. See FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155 (discussing sections 1204, 1205, 1210(b), 1215, 1231, 1232, 1233, 1234, and 1235(a) of the DRRA).

  158. See generally FEMA, Mitigation Ideas: A Resource for Reducing Risk to Natural Hazards 25, 27, 55–56, 72 (2013), https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1904-25045-0186/fema_mitigation_ideas_final508.pdf [https://perma.cc/5CLR-BYF2]; Kris Teutsch, Effective Disaster Management Strategies in the 21st Century, Emergency Mgmt. (Aug. 4, 2010), http://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/Effective-Disaster-Management-Strategies.html [https://perma.cc/53G7-3FBD] (outlining strategies to improve disaster management).

  159. See Pew Charitable Trs., Natural Disaster Mitigation Spending Not Comprehensively Tracked 1 (2018), https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2018/09/fiscal_federalism_federal_and_state_funding_issue_brief_v1.pdf [https://perma.cc/9HKS-TVJC] (stating savings are $6 for every $1 spent on mitigation efforts); Multihazard Mitigation Council, Nat’l Inst. Building Sci., Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities 5 (2005), https://www.floods.org/PDF/MMC_Volume1_FindingsConclusionsRecommendations.pdf [https://perma.cc/F94V-FYKJ] (“[A] dollar spent on mitigation saves society an average of $4.”).

  160. Schroeder, supra note 105 (“For example, in fiscal year 2016, Congress appropriated $7 billion to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund primarily for response and recovery, but only $100 million for the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund to limit the severity of damages from a future natural disaster.”).

  161. Brian Naylor, With Harvey and Now Irma, Federal Funds and FEMA Are Put to the Test, Nat’l Pub. Radio (Sept. 8, 2017), https://www.npr.org/2017/09/08/549279078/with-harvey-and-now-irma-federal-funds-and-fema-are-put-to-the-test [https://perma.cc/J82K-TCRT].

  162. Hazard Mitigation Assistance, supra note 156.

  163. Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, Pub. L. No. 113-2, § 1104(c), 127 Stat. 4, 43 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5170c note (2012 & Supp. II 2013)).

  164. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/hazard-mitigation-grant-program [https://perma.cc/2KMC-22HW] (last updated Sept. 19, 2018).

  165. Id.

  166. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Frequently Asked Questions, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/hmgp-faqs [https://perma.cc/HU7E-9K88] (last updated Mar. 4, 2019).

  167. Sierra Killian & Rebecca L. Kihslinger, Before Disaster Strikes: Pre-Disaster Mitigation Funding, Envtl. L. Inst. (Nov. 28, 2018), https://www.eli.org/vibrant-environment-blog/disaster-strikes-pre-disaster-mitigation-funding [https://perma.cc/2R4G-XG9V] (noting that PDM funding was $90 million in 2016 and 2017 and $235 million in 2018); Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/pre-disaster-mitigation-grant-program [https://perma.cc/5JUZ-Z8SV] (last updated Dec. 3, 2018).

  168. Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program, supra note 167; see also Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, supra note 164.

  169. See FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155.

  170. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, Pub. L. No. 115-254, §§ 1204–1205, 1233, 132 Stat. 3186 (codified in scattered sections of 42 U.S.C.).

  171. Id. § 1210(b) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5170c note); FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155.

  172. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1234(i)(1) (emphasis added).

  173. Forbes Tompkins & Matthew Fuchs, With Costly Floods on the Rise, Congress Passes Bill to Help Communities Prepare, Pew Charitable Trs. (Oct. 3, 2018), https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/articles/2018/10/03/with-costly-floods-on-the-rise-congress-passes-bill-to-help-communities-prepare [https://perma.cc/66KX-XUF4].

  174. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1234(i)(3) (“The amount set aside pursuant to paragraph (1) shall not reduce the amounts otherwise made available for sections 403, 404, 406, 407, 408, 410, 416, and 428 under this Act.”).

  175. Id. § 1234(i)(1).

  176. See generally Killian & Kihslinger, supra note 167 (noting that an earlier version of the bill would have provided for a separate Treasury account with the exclusive purpose of funding disaster mitigation).

  177. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1234(i)(1).

  178. FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155 (citing Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1206).

  179. Kerchof, supra note 122.

  180. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-19-157SP, High-Risk Series: Substantial Efforts Needed to Achieve Greater Progress on High-Risk Areas 50 (2019) (“[S]ince our 2017 high-risk update, the federal government . . . has not implemented our July 2015 recommendation to establish a comprehensive investment strategy identifying, prioritizing, and implementing federal disaster resilience investments that could reduce federal fiscal exposure to climate change.”).

  181. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1216(a)–(b) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5174(a)).

  182. Id. § 1216(b)(1); FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155.

  183. FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155 (citing Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1211).

  184. NCSL, Information Alert: Congress Passes 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act and Disaster Recovery Reform Act 5 (2018), http://www.ncsl.org/Portals/1/Documents/standcomm/scnri/FAA_reauthorization_25672.pdf [https://perma.cc/RX4H-X5Z4].

  185. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1212 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5174).

  186. Cong. Research Serv., IN11055, The Disaster Recovery Reform Act: Homeland Security Issues in the 116th Congress 2 (2019).

  187. Id.

  188. Id.

  189. See supra Section II.D.

  190. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1239(a) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5170 note). Similarly, FEMA recently released an updated set of factors for individual assistance major disaster relief as required by the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. Factors Considered When Evaluating a Governor’s Request for Individual Assistance for a Major Disaster, 84 Fed. Reg. 10632 (proposed Mar. 21, 2019) (to be codified at 44 C.F.R. pt. 206). These factors become effective on June 1, 2019. Id.

  191. FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155.

  192. 44 C.F.R. § 206.48(a) (2018).

  193. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1239.

  194. 44 C.F.R. § 206.48(a)(1).

  195. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1239(b).

  196. Id. § 1223(1).

  197. Id. § 1223(2).

  198. Id. § 1224 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 5189(h)); see also FEMA’s DRRA Explanation, supra note 155.

  199. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1242.

  200. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-12-342SP, 2012 Annual Report: Opportunities to Reduce Duplication, Overlap and Fragmentation, Achieve Savings, and Enhance Revenue 1 (2012).

  201. Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 § 1242. The Agency must: “(1) complete a national preparedness assessment of capability gaps at each level . . . ; and (2) identify the potential costs for establishing and maintaining those capabilities at each level and determine what capabilities Federal agencies should provide.” Id.

  202. This is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last, discussion of necessary reforms for federal disaster relief. However, this is a discussion worth having time and again until the federal disaster relief framework adequately addresses the nation’s needs. For a comprehensive list of possible solutions, see Lindsay & McCarthy, 53, at 26–31 and Lindsay & Murray, supra note 1, at 92–97.

  203. For example, Harris County voters “overwhelmingly approved” a $2.5 billion flood bond one year after Hurricane Harvey devastated the city. Zach Despart, Harvey One Year Later: Harris County Voters Pass $2.5 Billion Flood Bond One Year After Harvey, Hous. Chron.https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-weather/hurricaneharvey/article/Harris-County-voters-pass-2-5-billion-flood-bond-13182842.php [https://perma.cc/7GK4-2SUB] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019). Texas also provided funding for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. Rebecca Elliott & Kevin Diaz, Houston, Harris County Get $2 Billion in Harvey Recovery FundsHous. Chron. (Apr. 11, 2018), https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Houston-Harris-County-get-another-2-billion-in-12823304.php [https://perma.cc/6KP8-CLQR?type=image].

  204. See generally Plumer, supra note 102 (outlining the government’s lack of knowledge regarding the cost of disaster relief).

  205. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-19-157SP, supra note 180, at 50.

  206. Vincenzo Morabito, Big Data and Analytics: Strategic and Organizational Impacts 23–24 (2015) (discussing the impact of big data on government services); Big Data: What It Is and Why It Matters, SAS, https://www.sas.com/en_us/insights/big-data/what-is-big-data.html [https://perma.cc/3MVJ-ZNPQ] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019).

  207. Ryan Ayers, How Big Data Is Aiding in Disaster Relief, Smart Data Collective (Oct. 19, 2016), https://www.smartdatacollective.com/how-big-data-aiding-disaster-relief/ [https://perma.cc/ZA6D-KLJS].

  208. Pete Soderling, How Big Data Can Help Improve the Meteorological Risk Models That Are Out of Date, Data Council (Sept. 14, 2017, 10:00 AM), http://www.dataengconf.com/blog/how-big-data-can-help-improve-the-meteorological-risk-models-that-are-out-of-date [https://perma.cc/45P3-5KZQ].

  209. Mike Morris, Houston to Get $1B in Harvey Housing Aid; It’s Not Enough, Hous. Chron. (June 11, 2018), https://www.chron.com/news/politics/houston/article/Houston-is-about-to-get-1b-in-housing-aid-after-12978940.php [https://perma.cc/7NZC-X7ZR?type=image] (citing Tom McCasland, City of Hous. Housing & Cmty. Dev., Draft Local Action Plan: Hurricane Harvey Housing Recovery 35 (2018), http://houstontx.gov/housing/Draft_Houston_local_action_plan_6.6.2018.pdf [https://perma.cc/X8M5-FTP4]).

  210. Civis for the Public Sector, Civis, https://www.civisanalytics.com/industries/public-sector/ [https://perma.cc/Y9FU-762Z] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (quoting Sarah Labowitz, Communications and Policy Director, City of Houston).

  211. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-19-157SP, supra note 180, at 115 (noting that the government must “adopt adequate budgeting and forecasting procedures to account for fiscal exposures [to climate change], such as major disaster costs, as part of the federal budget process.”).

  212. See supra notes 110–11 and accompanying text. “In estimating the funding for major disasters, FEMA considers the projected FY 2019 obligations for previously declared catastrophic events ($2.345 billion) and FY 2019 estimates for the noncatastrophic major disaster activities ($2.607 billion).” U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Sec., Disaster Relief Fund: FY 2019 Funding Requirements 7 (2018).

  213. See generally Stephanie Sanok Kostro & Garrett Riba, Ctr. for Strategic & Int’l Studies, Achieving Disaster Resilience in U.S. Communities: Executive Branch, Congressional, and Private-Sector Efforts 27 (2014), https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/publication/141016_Kostro_DisasterResilience_Web.pdf [https://perma.cc/3NDP-9TQY].

  214. Disasters, FEMA, https://www.fema.gov/disasters?field_dv2_state_territory_tribal_value_selective=All&field_dv2_incident_type_tid=All&field_dv2_declaration_type_value=EM&field_dv2_incident_begin_value[value][month]=1&field_dv2_incident_begin_value[value][year]=2018&field_dv2_incident_end_value[value][month]=12&field_dv2_incident_end_value[value][year]=2018 [https://perma.cc/5VU5-HF8L] (last visited Apr. 14, 2019) (counting each state’s request for relief for the same major disaster separately). The final tally of total expenditures for each of the sixty-one events has not been completed. Therefore, the Author has not been able to determine how many events qualified as “catastrophes.”

  215. See Jeremy Symons, New Data Shows Changing Disaster Trends—and Why Congress Should Take Note, Envtl. Def. Fund (Sept. 13, 2017), https://www.edf.org/blog/2017/09/13/new-data-shows-changing-disaster-trends-and-why-congress-should-take-note [https://perma.cc/UC2Q-XQ6D].

  216. U.S. Gov’t Accountability Office, GAO-08-301, Disaster Cost Estimates: FEMA Can Improve its Learning from Past Experience and Management of Disaster-Related Resources 25 n.30 (2008), https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=483554 [https://perma.cc/8LR9-NDNM].

  217. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview, NOAA Nat’l Ctrs for Envtl. Info. (Oct. 9, 2018), https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/ [https://perma.cc/9VMQ-ZMNW] (“The total cost of these 241 events exceeds $1.6 trillion.”). The total number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the last 10 years is 112 while in the 28 years prior, a total of 129 were recorded. Id.

  218. Id.

  219. See supra note 88 and accompanying text.

  220. In fact, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner believes that building a third reservoir in Houston—in addition to the Barker and Addicks Reservoirs—to prevent future flooding in the city would cost the same amount. Ed Mayberry, Houston’s Mayor: City Needs Funds for Third Reservoir, Hous. Pub. Media (Nov. 29, 2017), https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/2017/11/29/253358/houstons-mayor-city-needs-funds-for-third-reservoir/ [https://perma.cc/A25K-Y827]; see also Projects & Studies, supra note 2 (“Together with Barker Reservoir, Addicks Reservoir was built in the 1940s as part of a federal project to reduce flooding risks along Buffalo Bayou.”).

  221. Jade Boyd, Decade of Data Shows FEMA Flood Maps Missed 3-I