Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation on May 17, the ‘‘Disaster Housing Assistance Act,’’ requiring FEMA to enter into an agreement with HUD to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to continue providing housing assistance to thousands of families still displaced after last year’s hurricanes – including thousands of Puerto Rican families forced to flee the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The move comes just two days after FEMA denied the governor of Puerto Rico’s request to activate the program and just weeks after FEMA announced it would end on June 30 its Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) program that provides hotel rooms to hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families living in Florida, leaving many with no alternative housing.
"This administration has failed the people of Puerto Rico," Mr. Nelson said. "If they’re not going to act, then Congress must. These displaced families are American citizens who desperately need our help. We have a responsibility to help them, just as we would want to be helped if we were in their shoes."
If enacted, Mr. Nelson's legislation would require FEMA to immediately activate DHAP for the survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria through February, 2019. DHAP provides monthly rent subsidies and wrap around services to eligible families for up to 18 months after a disaster is declared. The program is initiated through an interagency agreement between FEMA and HUD, where FEMA funds the program and establishes the eligibility criteria for displaced families and HUD uses its existing housing assistance processes to administer the program.
On Tuesday, May 15, FEMA rejected Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s December request to activate DHAP (see related article in this week’s Memo to Member and Partners). The Nelson legislation would require FEMA to act on DHAP, providing assistance to anyone still displaced by last year’s storms, including Puerto Rican families who would be forced out of their hotel rooms on June 30.
The bill is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
A copy of the legislation is available at: https://bit.ly/2IsU2XB