Sen. Peters surveying flood damage. Photo courtesy Sen. Peters' office.
Sen. Peters surveying flood damage. Photo courtesy Sen. Peters' office.

Sen. Gary Peters is taking steps to improve FEMA’s reliability in Michigan’s time of unprecedented crisis.

MICHIGAN — A once-in-a-century plague, a 500-year flood and a historic cyclone shape a tumultuous 2020 so far on the disaster front in Michigan. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) serves as a resource for Michigan to ride out this wave of back-to-back crises. 

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan) sits on a committee overseeing that agency, helping to make sure Michigan gets those ever-important disaster relief funds. 

He’s the Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA. A Peters aide told The ‘Gander that the senator has been focusing on this role right now. 

And with the challenges posed by fickle federal leadership from President Donald Trump, who The ‘Gander reported threatened to withhold funding from Michigan over its support for the right to vote by mail, that oversight makes a difference.

The Rocky Relationship Between FEMA and Michigan

FEMA was crucial in the response to the historic flooding in Midland. While Michigan works to complete the damage assessment for the agency, The ‘Gander reported that the request for aid has been approved and the agency is working with the state to respond to the disaster. 

But FEMA, and the Trump Administration at large, were less responsive to Michigan’s needs addressing the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer testified to Congress. In particular, she said the agency wasn’t a reliable source for personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Like with testing supplies, PPE shipments from FEMA have been irregular and unpredictable, and inaccurate information about what to expect has made planning difficult,” she said. “President Trump told governors that states should seek out their own supplies on the private market, and yet suppliers were claiming they were being directed to sell to the federal government rather than states.”

Tuesday, Peters convened an oversight hearing on the issues of procurement during the novel coronavirus pandemic that Gov. Whitmer called “unpredictable” in her testimony. He also introduced legislation to strengthen FEMA’s response efforts in marginalized communities and communities of color. 

This is part and parcel of Peters’ larger initiative to oversee FEMA’s strategy in crisis response, and the distribution of supplies and PPE in particular, his aide said.

“When a disaster strikes, minority communities often experience some of the most serious impacts, yet they are often the last to receive disaster relief assistance and receive smaller amounts than other communities,” Peters said in a statement. “The ongoing coronavirus public health emergency has once again highlighted longstanding inequities in our disaster response systems. We must do more to protect our most vulnerable and underserved communities.”

What Doing More Means to Peters

Sen. Peters also has been trying to address the issues with supply beyond FEMA.

Peters’ aide told The ‘Gander that the senator has also pressed the Administration to take action on critical drug shortages, stabilizing the medical supply chain, ensuring the availability of PPE for health care workers, and rapidly approving disaster declarations to aid state and local governments responding to the pandemic.

He has also been calling on the Trump administration to waive the cost-sharing requirements facing states in dire economic straits during the waves of crisis that have formed much of the year to date. His efforts to reduce this burden include bipartisan legislation to offer financial support to communities facing disaster response challenges, like Midland. 

“Communities in Michigan and across the country are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, and they need the full resources and support the federal government can help provide as we tackle this emergency together,” said Peters. “Michiganders need help, and this legislation will ensure that every community will be able to get the federal aid they need to address terrible disasters like these.”

Another piece of legislation Peters has introduced would require federal agencies to compile and publicly share real-time information about testing supply inventory and shortages related to the pandemic. 

“Months into the most severe public health crisis of our lifetimes, we have more questions than answers when it comes to America’s national testing capacity,” he said.