With approval from Congress, the Civilian Reservist Emergency Act headed for President Joe Biden’s desk for a final signature this week, granting new protections for reservists with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from losing their full-time employment when called to assist.
First introduced by U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), the chair and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively, the bill initially passed the Senate in December 2021 but was held up in the House until this month.
“FEMA Reservists serve as an essential part of our federal response to everything from hurricanes, flooding, or wildfires to public health crises,” Peters said. “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.”
Reservists are temporary, on-call employees of the agency, tapped for help when a disaster demands quick responses from the federal government. However, until now, those reservists lacked official employment protections that would guarantee them the ability to return to any full-time jobs once a disaster mission was complete – a notable difference from military reservists.
One of the guiding forces of this bill was the fact that FEMA faces a shortage of reservists. Supporters have said that recruitment and retention difficulties were exacerbated by the unlikelihood of most Americans being able to balance both their reservist duties and the career they need to survive in daily life.
“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,” Portman said. “This bill will improve the retention of these highly skilled emergency responders while also strengthening the agency’s readiness to respond to major disasters. 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.”