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It’s important that we begin the long overdue process of reforming the way the federal government responds to catastrophic disasters. 

Too often, federal disaster relief has been reactive, bureaucratic, and arbitrary. Billions of dollars are spent, and sometimes wasted, with little or no accountability.

Resources go unused.  Goals are not met. Red tape delays recovery. In the end, it seems Washington focuses solely on the price tag rather than the people we are trying to help. 

The current model assumes that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington are best suited to decide where, when, and how to allocate resources in an emergency. But common sense and decades of experience suggest otherwise.

It is the people on the ground -- local officials and emergency responders, of course, but also individuals, families, and voluntary organizations – who are best equipped to help communities respond and recover.

As I looked into these issues, it became clear to me that, even as the federal government distributed billions for recovery with the right hand, regulations and bureaucracy choked the recovery process with the left hand.

Our recovery policy needs to be both more flexible and more consistent. Flood victims on the east coast deal with the same issues as a flood victims in the Gulf, yet they are often faced with differing rules and requirements.  Federal policy should be clarified so that local officials and private citizens understand the process before a disaster occurs.

My amendment would create permanent, substantive regulatory reforms to assist victims of ALL disasters.  It would create no new federal program or taxpayer burden.  Instead, it would remove red tape and provide temporary – but immediate – regulatory relief for disaster victims and relief volunteers.

It would make it easier for a family to access savings to begin immediate recovery.  It would temporarily waive certain regulatory burdens for people providing essential services after a disaster.  It would expedite shipping to ensure we can get critical materials into the affected areas.

Most importantly, my amendment would make these reforms automatic so that communities could begin rebuilding immediately without waiting for Washington to act.

Mr. President, these are important and overdue reforms, and represent a good first step toward improving our approach to disaster relief.

I am pleased with the positive response this proposal has received, though I understand that some of my colleagues have concerns that a few of these substantive changes merit additional discussion.

I believe these reforms ought to be permanent fixtures of federal emergency response policy, and ideally part of a more comprehensive package to overhaul how we respond to federal disasters.

I have spoken with my good friend, Senator Hatch, Ranking Member of the Finance Committee, the committee in which many of these reforms will and should be debated, and he’s expressed an interest in working with me on these reforms in the new Congress.

I look forward to and encourage all of my colleagues to join me in a serious and meaningful dialogue about these critical issues.

With that, I withdraw my amendment because I am confident that a broader discussion will be good for the country and result in reforms that will eliminate waste, facilitate quicker recovery, and deliver assistance to Americans affected by natural disasters.

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August Town Hall Schedule

Senator Lee will be holding several town hall meetings during the month of August. Visit the town hall page to find a meeting being held in your area.