Representatives David Rouzer (R-NC) and Garret Graves (R-LA) of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced the “Natural Disaster Recovery Program Act.” The bill would provide FEMA with the authority to issue block grants to disaster-impacted states for a wide variety of disaster recovery uses with no requirement to detail the use of such funds before receipt. The funds would not be subject to civil rights reviews or analysis to ensure that funding reaches those most impacted by disasters, such as households with low incomes, and receipt of funds would not be contingent on meeting resiliency standards to ensure that repair and reconstruction projects are not damaged during future disasters. The sponsors of the legislation view the program that would be created under the bill as a way to replace HUD’s long-term disaster recovery program, in part by shifting funding obligations from HUD to FEMA. Read a press release announcing the introduction of the bill at: https://bit.ly/3FyBoJr
While additional funds for disaster recovery are always welcome, the bill is envisioned as a replacement for HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program – which has allocated over $90 billion in long-term disaster recovery funds since 1993 – according to a press release announcing the bill. “Under the current Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, disaster survivors may wait years for recovery dollars,” said Rep. Rouzer in the press release. “This is largely due to the overly bureaucratic process governing the program at the federal level. It is time to scrap the CDBG-DR program and replace it with a simple block grant allowing states and localities to properly address the unique needs of disaster survivors.” The release goes on to explain how the bill would empower states and “[take] power away from HUD.”
HUD’s CDBG-DR program has been criticized in the past for being slow to activate. A contributing factor to the slow pace of assistance is the programs’ unauthorized nature. Rather than eliminating CDBG-DR altogether and replacing it with a FEMA administered program, NLIHC believes that Congress should instead enact legislation to permanently authorize CDBG-DR to help speed up recovery and provide safeguards to better ensure resources reach those households and communities most impacted by disasters.
Without permanent authorization, HUD must draft and release program policies whenever Congress approves funds under the program. This means that funds take longer to reach disaster survivors and that program requirements constantly change, precluding those states and localities receiving funds from anticipating them ahead of time. A bill awaiting introduction in the House and Senate, the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” would permanently authorize the program and create a framework of program rules to ensure that disaster recovery aid reaches those most in need of assistance quickly and efficiently. Passing this bipartisan bill – which was introduced during the last Congress by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Todd Young (R-IN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Representative Al Green (D-TX) – is a main priority of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), an NLIHC-led group of more than 900 local, state, and national organizations working together to ensure that all disaster survivors receive the assistance they need to fully recover.
NLIHC opposes legislation to charge FEMA with long-term disaster housing recovery because the agency’s disaster housing recovery system is fundamentally broken and in need of major reform. FEMA, which would manage the new program under the bill, has consistently failed to ensure that households with low incomes and historically marginalized communities can access the assistance for which they are eligible. For example, the agency typically does not provide assistance to individuals who are experiencing homelessness, systematically devalues the homes of low-income disaster survivors when determining assistance, has abruptly terminated housing assistance programs resulting in increased homelessness in multiple states, and has consistently defended unnecessary and insurmountable barriers to applying for assistance that lead to disproportionate denials of Black households and people with low incomes. While the agency has taken steps to increase equity in its programs in the last several years, these issues would be replicated in any long-term recovery programs facilitated by the agency.
Read the press release announcing the bill at: https://bit.ly/3FyBoJr