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State Urges FEMA To Be More Flexible In The Future

State officials are urging the Obama Administration to make some significant changes in federal disaster recovery programs.

The goal is to make the federal government more responsive to the needs of individual states during future natural disasters take place.

Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter is one of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s representatives on the White House Task Force on Climate Change. 

The Task Force was created to give states an opportunity to recommend ways that the federal government can be more responsive to states when severe weather events, often caused by climate change, take place.

Minter was Vermont’s top recovery officer in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. Based on that experience, she says there’s no question that federal agencies need to be more flexible in many of their recovery programs:

"They are creating barriers to having a more resilient recovery." - Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter describing federal disaster relief programs

“We believe that the agencies could do a better job of actually being problem solvers and being proactive on helping us come forward with important resilient solutions to problems,” said Minter. “Rather than the role that they are now in which is essentially about how to clarify, in our sense sometimes narrowly clarify, specific rules of programs.”  

Minter says she was also disappointed that many federal officials didn’t see the need to take steps to help prevent a reoccurrence of some of the problems caused by Irene.

“We also feel that the programs themselves and how they’re set up are actually, they’re creating barriers to having a more resilient recovery,” said Minter. “The specific example that we know well in Vermont relates to culverts. We had battles with our federal partners on the FEMA side to help us build larger culverts for the future.”  

Minter says she was also frustrated that many federal officials weren’t very responsive to the needs of homeowners whose property was destroyed during Irene.

“Our ability to do more buy-outs for homeowners in harm’s way in flood plains or in river corridors that we know will be hazardous this was another area in Irene that we had to sort of battle our federal partners to get them to help support us," she said.

Minter says the task force will present  its formal report to President Obama next month and she’s optimistic that the President will incorporate many of the group’s recommendations.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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