Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition Submits Comments on Proposed Rule Limiting Access to FEMA Resources

The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) – a group of over 850 local, state, and national groups working to ensure equitable housing recovery – submitted a comment letter this week on a proposed rule announced by FEMA that would severely restrict disaster-impacted states from receiving federal assistance in the future. 

The FEMA Public Assistance (PA) program reimburses states, local governments, and some non-profits for disaster costs such as debris removal, emergency protective measures to protect life and property, and permanent repair work to damaged or destroyed infrastructure. To receive FEMA assistance, elected officials must 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 determine 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 more than 100%, severely curtailing the amount of PA approvals states would receive. If the full rule is implemented, communities would lose access to federal resources they need 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 critical resources. 

The DHRC’s comments argue these changes would abruptly restrict access to FEMA assistance based on inaccurate data that fails to show a state’s ability to respond, leaving them with little time to boost their capacity to address disasters without federal aid and placing disaster survivors and their communities at greater risk. Instead of implementing these changes, the DHRC urges FEMA to continue assisting states to build their capacity to respond to disasters and to work with other federal agencies to streamline the disaster recovery process – lessening agency workloads for each disaster.

NLIHC has created a fact sheet describing the rule and offering arguments in opposition. The deadline for comments on this proposed rule has been extended through March 12. Comments can be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. FEMA will be hosting a virtual public meeting on February 24 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm EST to solicit feedback on the proposed rule. To RSVP for that meeting you can contact Tod Wells, deputy division director, Recovery Directorate, Public Assistance, by email at [email protected] or by phone at (202) 646-2500.

Read the text of the proposed rule at: https://bit.ly/3r6AyL3

Read the DHRC’s comment letter at: https://bit.ly/3tKpDb4

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