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Increased BRIC funding allows communities to invest for the future

When President Biden unveiled his infrastructure plan in late March, the proposed $2 trillion price tag provided firm evidence that this Administration is serious about not only repairing the built environment, but also creating a modern foundation for 21st century progress.

BRIC funding is set aside based on appropriations from disaster declarations. Image from FEMA presentation delivered May 4, 2020.

While the “American Jobs Plan” is being modified by Republican counteroffers on Capitol Hill, where much of the action is taking place behind closed doors, the administration took a very public and encouraging step to jump-start infrastructure investment. Specifically, the President announced a doubling of funding from last year for the BRIC (or Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) program, designed to give state and local governments funding to prepare for natural disasters.

There are a few important things to note about this announcement.

First, while doubling any budget that will help spur economic activity, especially in the construction industry, is good news, going from $500 million to $1 billion pales in comparison to the Administration’s $2 trillion-dollar request for broadly defined infrastructure work. But it is an important start.

Summary of 2020 BRIC program applications, from the FEMA website, June 4, 2021

Second, because these funds are distributed through a FEMA program, it sends an important message about the importance of pre-disaster mitigation activities – spending millions to prepare for cataclysmic events, rather than allocating government funds to help only in the wake of disastrous destruction. As the President said when he announced the increased funding, he will “insist on nothing less than readiness,” an acknowledgement of the ongoing economic impact of climate change and the need to retrofit the infrastructure – buildings, transport and electric grid – in order to withstand these threats. Existing research by the National Institute of Building Sciences shows that one dollar invested in resilient design in pre-disaster mitigation effectively avoids $11 in after-disaster costs.

Finally, where will this money go and who is likely to spend it? A look at last year’s applications for BRIC funding provides important clues. With $500 million available, FEMA received applications for $3.6 billion from every state in the country. While flood control applications were the most prevalent, utility and infrastructure protection was second in line, followed by building retrofit activity. As with last year, applications this year must be submitted by states, territories and tribal governments, but homeowners, business operators and non-profit organizations can be included on a subapplications. For last year’s funding cycle, the applications were accepted between September of 2020 and January 2021.  While the dates when FEMA will accept applications for this year’s expanded funding have not yet been announced, they will most likely mirror last year.

So, the Biden Administration has delivered a strong signal that funding will be available through multiple channels for infrastructure projects. More importantly, much of that funding can be used to prepare for natural disasters, allowing state governments and businesses time to plan for the future, rather than being forced to spend limited resources restoring what failed to work in the past.

About the author: Jared Blum is Washington Counsel for the EPDM Roofing Association and Vice-Chair of the BCSE Board of Directors.