Disaster Housing Recovery Advocates Call for Comments on Proposed Rule Limiting Access to FEMA Resources

The FEMA Public Assistance Program (PA) reimburses states, local governments, and certain types of non-profits for certain disaster costs, such as debris removal, emergency protective measures to protect life and property, and permanent repair work to damaged or destroyed infrastructure. FEMA announced a proposed rule on December 14, 2020 that would severely restrict disaster-impacted states from receiving this assistance in the future. If the full rule is implemented, communities would lose access to federal resources needed to recover in all but very large disasters. During a time when state and local resources are being pushed to the limit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rule would severely restrict access to these critical resources. As a result, the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) is requesting that FEMA withdraw these provisions. NLIHC has created a fact sheet describing the rule and offering arguments in opposition.

To receive FEMA assistance, elected officials must first make a formal request to the president for approval – a decision based largely on FEMA’s recommendation. Specifically, the rule would modify how FEMA calculates the estimated cost of assistance (COA), one of the six factors on which FEMA bases its recommendations. The rule would apply over ten years of inflation adjustments to the nationwide standards it uses to find a COA and modify its calculations by each state’s total taxable revenue (TTR). TTR measures how much revenue a state could potentially receive if it taxed all available sources. For multiple states, the level of disaster damage required to receive FEMA PA would increase by over 100% - severely curtailing the amount of PA approvals the state would see.

These changes would abruptly restrict access to FEMA resources, leaving states with little time to boost their capacity to address disasters without federal assistance and placing disaster survivors and their communities at greater risk. In addition, the measurement proposed by FEMA to discern the economic status of states is inaccurate: TTR only measures the potential financial resources of a state, not the actual amount of funds available for disaster recovery. While these modifications were prompted by a provision of the “Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018” (DRRA), that law only required that FEMA evaluate its methods of calculating COA, meaning that FEMA is not required to make these modifications.

The DHRC will be submitting a comment in opposition to these provisions of the rule and are encouraging its partners in the disaster housing recovery field to do the same Comments on the proposed rule are due by February 12, 2021 and can be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

View the full text of the proposed FEMA rule at: https://bit.ly/3r6AyL3

Read NLIHC’s fact sheet on the rule at: https://bit.ly/2XMxndO

Submit a comment on the proposed rule at: https://bit.ly/38NNZZb