The Disaster Recovery Reform Act became law in October 2018 (Division D of P.L. 115-254). Importantly, it authorized a new Federal Emergency Management Agency program, Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), to reduce the risk associated with natural disasters by investing grant funding in public infrastructure projects before disasters hit.
Unlike the pre-disaster mitigation program that BRIC is replacing, which was funded with annual discretionary appropriations, FEMA can set aside up to 6% of total estimated disaster expenditures associated with each presidential disaster declaration to fund BRIC. These funds will go into the National Public Infrastructure Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund, with annual contributions fluctuating based on the number and cost of disasters in the prior year. FEMA has estimated that annual contributions will be between $300-$500 million.
As the latest step in BRIC’s development and implementation, FEMA released a draft policy on April 10 for public comment. Several Bipartisan Policy Center partners submitted letters with their input before the formal public comment period ended on May 11. FEMA will review all this information before it finalizes the proposed policy and begins accepting grant applications, which is expected this fall.
While our partners offered up a wide range of recommendations and implementation priorities, below are a few areas of consensus:
Prioritize natural infrastructure projects. Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Audobon Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership all suggested that FEMA more intentionally prioritize natural infrastructure solutions for reducing risks from flooding and other hazards in its BRIC policy because such projects offer multiple benefits—including environmental, recreational, social, and economic benefits.
Use BRIC to promote mitigation planning. Because many communities lack the technical, managerial, and financial capacity to assess hazard-related vulnerabilities, develop mitigation plans, and pull together project funding, several organizations focused on using BRIC for planning purposes. For example, the American Flood Coalition recommended that FEMA allow local governments to use BRIC funds for hazard mitigation planning, while Pew suggested that BRIC-supported hazard mitigation plans be fully incorporated into other types of community planning.
Avoid duplication. There are many federal programs intended to help states and local governments fund and finance needed infrastructure projects. In their comment letter, Pew cautioned that BRIC dollars should not simply replace or add to established infrastructure funding sources. Instead, they should explicitly be directed to pre-disaster mitigation efforts. The Nature Conservancy recommended that FEMA build interagency partnerships to ensure that the best-designed projects are selected for funding.
Accommodate the needs of disadvantaged and under-resourced communities. Our partners consistently acknowledged the disadvantages small, impoverished, and rural communities could face in the context of the BRIC program, offering ideas to make it easier for them to plan projects and get BRIC funding. Their recommendations included making local government eligible applicants for BRIC grants, adding more prescriptive public consultation requirements, allowing local officials to choose their own technical assistance providers, preferencing contracts with local, small businesses, tailoring program requirements and administrative burdens, and providing resources for planning, technical assistance, and capacity building.
For the full text of our partners’ comment letters, visit the links below:
American Flood Coalition
Fair Share Housing Center of New Jersey
National Audubon Society
Pew Charitable Trusts
The Nature Conservancy
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
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