Today U.S. Senator Josh Hawley sent letters to the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ask what is being done to prepare for the upcoming flood season. In his letters, Senator Hawley asks for responses to a list of questions on a range of topics, including transparency in FEMA’s Individual Assistance program, the Corps’ preparations for existing levee breaches, and what plans are being made to improve flood control and disaster relief in the future.
In his letter to FEMA, Senator Hawley wrote, “Given that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been slow to restore flood protection to pre-2019 levels, thereby leaving residents vulnerable, what steps is FEMA taking to mitigate the potential disaster? For instance, is FEMA pre-positioning resources in advance of expected storms?”
To the USACE, Senator Hawley wrote, “The National Weather Service is anticipating high levels of precipitation throughout the spring flood season. The forecast looks grim and many Missourians are left without flood protection – leaving them exposed. Due to your inaction, some of my constituents are planning to act on their own to provide at least some level of protection for their homes and businesses. What are you planning to do to protect the vital work of Missouri farmers who are facing decisions about the 2020 planting season?”
The full texts of the letters to FEMA and USACE are below.
January 21, 2020
The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20472
Dear Administrator Gaynor:
As Missouri braces for another flooding season, I am writing to understand what policies, preparation and guidance the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is considering to ensure Missourians’ circumstances are properly understood and that their needs can be efficiently and effectively addressed.
I write as Missouri reels from heavy storms that hit across the state earlier this month, and as many residents continue to rebuild their lives following the devastating historic floods that hit the state last March and April. Although I am grateful for the hard work of the men and women of FEMA, particularly its urban search and rescue teams, I would be remiss if I did not mention serious concerns with FEMA’s record on responding to Missourians’ needs.
In particular, many Missourians, particularly in the northwest of the state, continue to face burdensome challenges with regard to the designation and distribution of Individual Assistance (IA). Not only have there been inconsistencies and opaqueness in determinations of who is awarded IA, but in a number of cases in which constituents were granted IA they were forced to repay it to FEMA due to bureaucratic errors.
The mishandling of IA is one example of a broader disregard by FEMA for the needs of Missourians. A recent article in Mound City News reported that the mishandling of assistance from FEMA caused “[t]hose without flood insurance [to] have been left with what they can scrape together and help from family and friends.”
That people have been forced to face traumatizing and life-changing circumstances due to flooding is bad enough. That they are then forced to deal with FEMA’s bureaucratic errors and negligence is unacceptable.
In advance of this coming flood season, and in light of the above, I would appreciate your responses to the following questions:
- What policies will FEMA institute to ensure it is transparent with respect to the designation and distribution of Individual Assistance?
- How will FEMA alter its policies and preparations to ensure Missourians will not face the kinds of bureaucratic negligence and errors that have been reported during the 2019 flooding season?
- What processes and policies does FEMA have in place to ensure it is accurately assessing damage, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach parts of the state?
- How will FEMA improve its communication with local communities in advance of, during, and following disasters, in light of lessons learned during the 2019 flooding season?
- Given that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been slow to restore flood protection to pre-2019 levels, thereby leaving residents vulnerable, what steps is FEMA taking to mitigate the potential disaster? For instance, is FEMA pre-positioning resources in advance of expected storms?
- Some in the state have suggested Missouri will not be eligible for disaster aid from flooding in 2020 because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not repaired the levees. Is this accurate? Other than the sum of the financial losses, what data, such as stream gauges or flood maps, are considered to determine whether FEMA will provide assistance?
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your responses and to ensuring that the needs of Missourians are being met in a timely and efficient manner.
United States Senator
The Honorable R.D. James
Assistant Secretary for the Army – Civil Works
Department of the Army
108 Army Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20310-0108
Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite
Commanding General and Chief of Engineers
United States Army Corps of Engineers
441 G Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20314-1000
Dear Assistant Secretary James and Lieutenant General Semonite:
I am writing to express my sincere frustration with the Army Corps of Engineers’ failure to repair the damages from the historic flooding which occurred along the Missouri River in 2019 and which threatens to strike again in 2020. The Corps has been trusted with the management of the Missouri River and the people who live and work along the river need your help.
Since the flooding I have been in regular contact with my constituents, whose lives have been upended by these floods, and have seen too little progress on recovery. The Corps update on the status of levee rehabilitation dated January 8, 2020, does not show construction even having begun - much less completed - on 67 levee projects. This is unacceptable.
The National Weather Service is anticipating high levels of precipitation throughout the spring flood season. The forecast looks grim and many Missourians are left without flood protection – leaving them exposed. Due to your inaction, some of my constituents are planning to act on their own to provide at least some level of protection for their homes and businesses. What are you planning to do to protect the vital work of Missouri farmers who are facing decisions about the 2020 planting season?
Missourians were significantly impacted in the floods of 2019 and there’s been little done to protect Missourians in 2020. Here are a few questions Missourians deserve answers on:
- How are you preparing existing levee breaches for the flood risks faced in the spring of 2020?
- What temporary structures or measures could benefit those regions currently exposed by levee breaches?
- What is the plan to improve flood control on the Missouri River for 2021, 2022, and beyond?
I, along with all Missourians, expect to see a sense of urgency to finish repairs and restore flood control as the top priority for the management of the river so the communities along the Missouri can recover and thrive - without fear - for many years to come.
United States Senator