The “Disaster Assistance Simplification Act” (S.1528), endorsed by the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), unanimously passed out of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) on May 17. The bill, sponsored by HSGAC Chair Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) and Ranking Member Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) along with Senator James Lankford (R-OK), was introduced earlier in May.
The bill would create a universal system for disaster assistance applications, allowing an individual to submit just one disaster application to access eligible assistance from FEMA, HUD, the Small Business Administration, and other federal agencies as well as state and local grantees. The system would allow disaster survivors to update their applications throughout the recovery process and stay informed about the assistance process from the various agencies. After a disaster, survivors are commonly inundated with paperwork needed to apply to multiple disaster recovery programs at once. The questions and requirements from each program are often duplicative, leading to “application fatigue” that can prevent an individual from applying for additional assistance programs or appealing unjust denials of aid. By combining these multiple applications into a single online system, this fatigue can be reduced, making applying for assistance easier and more accessible for those most impacted by disasters, including households with lower incomes.
While the system itself would be managed by FEMA, the other federal agencies would be involved in the creation process and would work together to update questions and share application data necessary to administer disaster assistance programs. Importantly, data from each program would continue to be governed by agency data sharing rules, creating the possibility for HUD to share bulk data from the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program with researchers via its data licensing system.
“The lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors are often hardest hit by disasters, and they continue to face the steepest, longest path to a complete and equitable recovery. For too long, a daunting application and appeals process has prevented low-income disaster survivors from accessing the critical assistance they need to get back on their feet,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in a press release touting advocates’ support for the measure. “The creation of a universal application for disaster assistance, such as the one proposed in the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act, is an important first step in dismantling barriers created by the federal government and fixing our nation’s broken disaster housing recovery system.”
Read the press release announcing the bill’s introduction at: https://bit.ly/3pVeJlk
Read the bill language at: https://bit.ly/3pSmWHa
Watch the committee hearing at: https://bit.ly/3MDMS28
More information about disaster housing programs is on page 6-52 of NLIHC’s 2023 Advocates’ Guide.