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Bill to Improve Access to Disaster Recovery Assistance for Low Income Households Passes House

The “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act” (H.R. 2914), introduced by Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives on November 17, thanks in large part to the hard work and advocacy of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC). The bill was written with input from DHRC members and includes many of the coalition’s top priorities.

The legislation addresses the significant title-documentation challenges that have resulted in thousands of eligible disaster survivors being wrongfully denied FEMA assistance. These challenges have been common in many disaster-impacted areas, such as the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, Northern California, and Oregon, that have high numbers of mobile homes and alternative property ownership methods. In Puerto Rico alone, it is estimated that 77,000 households were wrongfully denied due to title-documentation issues. The bill would ensure eligible survivors can more easily navigate the FEMA application process.

The bill would provide a new framework to make it easier for disaster survivors to prove residency in disaster-impacted areas or homeownership, either by completing a “declarative statement” form or by submitting a broader range of acceptable documents such as utility bills, credit card statements, pay stubs, and school registration, in lieu of a formal title to property or leases. The creation and distribution of a declarative statement form – like the one created by DHRC Puerto Rico Working Group members after Hurricane Maria – is especially important to help low-income renters, people experiencing homelessness, residents of manufactured housing, people living on tribal lands, and other survivors get the assistance to which they are eligible. After past disasters, FEMA turned away many of these survivors because they lacked updated title or lease documentation, even though they were eligible for help.

The passage of this bill would not have been possible without the leadership of Senator Warren, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and Representative Espaillat, or the concerted efforts of DHRC members and partners. The DHRC will continue working to advocate for the legislation as it moves to the Senate.

Read the text of the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act” at: https://bit.ly/398bvO6

Read a fact sheet on FEMA and Title Issues at: https://bit.ly/2IJ3TJL