The following is a review of additional disaster housing recovery developments since the last edition of Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in the previous Memo, see 6/24).
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform-Subcommittee on the Environment held a hearing on disaster recovery and resiliency on June 25. The Subcommittee members questioned emergency management officials from Texas, California, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as FEMA mitigation officials, a climate-change expert and a skeptic. The Subcommittee asked about FEMA’s position on climate change and how the agency can prepare for worsening disasters. View a recording of the hearing here.
Administration officials spoke to journalists about preparations being undertaken in advance of the 2019 hurricane and wildfire season. Officials pointed to new resource distribution centers and stepped-up coordination with state and local governments as signs of progress. DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan noted that storms will strike areas still recovering from past disasters, calling it a “test of our resilience.”
Midwest Flooding & Tornadoes
As FEMA denial letters go out to victims of tornadoes in Dayton, some residents question the agency’s reasons for denying aid.
California Governor Gavin Newsom released proposed legislation to assist PG&E with future wildfire claims. PG&E has been struggling through bankruptcy proceedings while also setting aside money for 2018 wildfire victims. The bill would create a separate compensation fund containing both state and PG&E funds.
The Paradise Town Council adopted a long-term recovery plan at a special meeting on June 25. The plan was released ahead of schedule due to robust community involvement. The plan, which contains a list of 38 projects prioritized by community members, is required to receive further federal and state aid.
The U.S. Department of Education announced on June 26 it would be awarding $1.25 million in grants to school districts in the Florida panhandle. The funding would go to enhancing mental health services for students in areas hit by Hurricane Michael. Many mental health practitioners have left the area due to a rise in housing prices, dramatically impacting mental health services.
HUD led a disaster recovery symposium in Panama City. The symposium brought together experts, community members and administrators to focus on innovative disaster recovery housing strategies.
Officials in Bay County released their long-term recovery plan. The plan outlines projects prioritized by the Bay County community as it works to recover from Hurricane Michael.
Representatives Thom Tillis (NC-R) and David Rouzer (NC-R) highlighted recent efforts to bring federal disaster recovery funding to North Carolina after Hurricane Florence. Their op-ed also featured their work with Senator Burr (R-NC) to direct the Army Corp of Engineers to begin storm-mitigation projects in advance of this year’s hurricane season.
Discussions regarding the housing of aid workers in Robeson County have stalled. Churches were deemed to have violated the fire code after inspectors found nearly 30 hurricane-recovery volunteers staying in a church rectory. With high local housing prices, churches are worried volunteers will stop coming to the area if no solution can be found.
West Virginia Flooding: A bill to allow open-ended contracts for disaster recovery projects is raising concerns in the West Virginia legislature. The state has built only 51 out of 400 homes destroyed by flooding three years ago. With only one contractor currently active on the project, proponents of the bill say creating open-ended contracts would make contracting easier and speed up recovery. Some lawmakers are concerned about unintended consequences.
Hurricane Irma: On June 20, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced an agreement with the Florida Housing Finance Organization and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to provide over $140 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds for the construction of new affordable housing in areas hit by Hurricane Irma.
Hurricane Maria: The Trump Administration has not yet sent the $600 million in emergency food stamp aid to Puerto Rico several weeks after President Trump signed the bill authorizing the funds. Around a million people rely on food stamps in Puerto Rico. The territory sent the USDA a revised plan detailing the use of the funds on June 24, but the agency has yet to approve the plan.