[Friday, Nov. 9, 2012]
Yesterday morning, I returned to Washington after spending more than a week on the road in New York and New Jersey. And as I told everyone at headquarters, I was inspired by what I saw.
The entire FEMA and DHS team has pulled together in support of the thousands of disaster survivors affected by Hurricane Sandy. More than 6,300 FEMA personnel are deployed from across the agency, including permanent full time employees from headquarters and the regions, reservists, CORES, FEMA Corps and seven other DHS components—all displaying true professionalism and dedication to FEMA's mission.
We must continue to be mindful that there are still 430,000 customers without power in Sandy affected areas and over 5,200 survivors living in shelters. Additionally, over 57 schools in New York and schools in two New Jersey counties remain closed. This is displacing over 34,000 students to study at alternate locations. But our team is moving quickly, by registering more than 343,000 applicants, and providing nearly $370 million in assistance to survivors.
I know that many of you are sacrificing time with your family and loved ones. Because of those sacrifices I am very pleased to let our reservists know that we are making real progress towards securing health benefits for them.
Earlier today, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) posted an interim final rule to amend the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) regulations to make certain employees who work on intermittent schedules eligible to be enrolled in a health benefits plan under the FEHBP. This rule is intended to allow agencies such as FEMA to apply to OPM for authorization to offer FEHBP coverage to intermittent employees engaged in emergency response functions.
This interim regulation will allow agencies to request FEHBP coverage for intermittent employees engaged in emergency response and recovery work as defined by the Stafford Act. It is important to note that this final rule removes regulatory restrictions that limited FEMA’s ability to offer benefits. With the removal of these restrictions, FEMA will apply directly to OPM for authorization to offer FEHBP coverage. What does this mean for FEMA Reservists: in plain English, it means we’re one step away from being able to provide FEHBP coverage to EVERY Reservist while they are in pay status.
I will make sure that our leadership will keep you posted about the progress of this program. But today's announcement marks a major step toward securing the benefits that many of our reservists have sought for several years.
Again, thank you for all that you do. Please remember, as you care for survivors, to take care of yourself and rest when you are able.