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Monday, October 3, 2022
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House Passes Emergency Response Legislation

The Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce (CREW) Act to protect FEMA Reservists from losing their full-time employment when they are called up to assist communities with disaster response has also passed the House.

The House of Representatives passed three bills this week which will help responses to extreme weather and climate events.

Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman and Ranking Member Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to help protect pets and other animals during and in the aftermath of natural disasters and emergencies has passed the House. The Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act directs the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish an advisory group with outside experts to ensure that current FEMA guidance is aligned with best practices in animal care for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. The legislation, which passed the Senate in August and was led through the House by U.S. Representative Dina Titus (D-NV-01), now heads to the President to be signed into law.

“Pet owners in Michigan and across the country should not have to make the difficult choice of taking care of their pets or getting to safety when disasters strike,” said Senator Peters. “I look forward to seeing the President sign this bipartisan bill into law so that all of our loved ones – even those with fur, feathers or scales – can be safe during hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other emergencies.”

“As a proud dog owner, it is concerning that animal and veterinary needs are often overlooked during disasters. I am pleased this bipartisan legislation has passed the House because it will require FEMA to establish a working group with outside experts to review current federal guidance regarding animals in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery to ensure it aligns with current best practices,” said Senator Portman. “This bill will help ensure Ohio families and other animal owners have up-to-date guidance for disaster preparedness.”

“As a member of the Animal Protection Caucus, I was pleased to introduce the PAW Act to help protect our beloved pets during disasters. When preparing for and responding to catastrophes, animal welfare often is overlooked, and sadly, some owners make the risky decision of refusing to evacuate in order to stay with their pets. The PAW Act will ensure first responders and federal disaster response workers can help pet owners plan to keep every member of their family, even the furry and feathered ones, safe,” said Congresswoman Titus. 

Animal welfare is often overlooked during disaster response and recovery efforts, and in some instances, individuals have refused to evacuate before natural disasters because they do not want to abandon their pets. Following floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, the loss of household pets can take a significant emotional toll on pet owners, who often consider these animals to be a part of their families. In recent disaster events, FEMA and local emergency managers have relied on voluntary agencies and organizations to assist with both emergency veterinary services and relocation of thousands of evacuated and surrendered animals. While many of these pets and service animals were reunited with their families following the initial disaster, there are hundreds that were not.

The Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act would require the FEMA Administrator to establish an advisory group to encourage and foster collaborative efforts among individuals and entities working to address the needs of animals in disaster preparedness. The working group will review current best practices and federal guidance on sheltering and evacuation planning for household pets, service and assistance animals, and other animals, as appropriate. If the Administrator, in consultation with the working group, finds that current federal guidance does not meet best practices, FEMA is required to publish updated guidance in consultation with the advisory group.

The senators’ bipartisan bill has been endorsed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, the National Animal Care & Control Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Alliance of State Animal & Agricultural Emergency Programs, and the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition.

Senators Portman and Peters also announced that their bipartisan Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce (CREW) Act to protect FEMA Reservists from losing their full-time employment when they are called up to assist communities with disaster response has passed the House and now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law. FEMA Reservists are temporary, on-call and intermittent employees who are essential to the agency’s mission to quickly respond to disasters, but they currently lack employment protections that ensure they will be able to return to their full-time jobs once their disaster response mission is complete. The bipartisan legislation passed the Senate last December. 

“FEMA Reservists should be protected from any disadvantage or discrimination due to their service and that’s why I’m pleased the House has passed our bipartisan bill to extend Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protections to FEMA Reservists. This bill will improve the retention of these highly skilled emergency responders while also strengthening the agency’s readiness to respond to major disasters,” said Senator Portman. “It is not only the right thing to do but comes as our country is facing a record high number of disasters where these Reservists are needed the most.” 

“FEMA Reservists serve as an essential part of our federal response to everything from hurricanes, flooding, or wildfires to public health crises,” said Senator Peters. “They should never have to worry about losing their livelihoods when called up to serve. I am grateful to my colleagues in the House for passing this legislation and urge the President to sign it into law as soon as possible.” 

Currently, FEMA faces a large shortfall of Reservists because it is difficult to recruit and retain Americans who are likely unable to balance Reservist duties and full-time employment. Unlike reservists in the U.S. military, FEMA Reservists do not currently have employment protections that would enable them to perform their disaster response duties and ensure that their permanent, full-time jobs will still be available when they return. 

The Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce Act would extend critical employment protections to FEMA Reservists to ensure they would be able to keep their full-time employment when they are called to assist in disaster response efforts. Portman and Peters introduced the legislation following testimony they heard as part of the Committee’s bipartisan oversight of the COVID-19 pandemic response to ensure the United States is better prepared for future national emergencies. 

The Wildfire Recovery Act, introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), has also passed the house. This Act statutorily codifies that Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG), authorized in Sec. 420 of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, shall have a federal share of not less than 75%. Additionally, H.R. 1066 requires FEMA conduct and complete a rulemaking to establish criteria that will be used to inform when the FEMA Administrator may recommend a cost share adjustment to the president for FMAGs of a certain magnitude. A similar regulatory framework already exists for cost share adjustments to major disasters declared pursuant to the Stafford Act.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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