Disaster Housing Recovery Update – December 2, 2022
NLIHC, the Fair Share Housing Center, and Puerto Rican advocates including Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, and the Hispanic Federation sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell calling for the agency to reopen the assistance application period for Hurricane Fiona and remedy substantial issues with translation services for both disaster survivors with Low English Proficiency and disaster survivors with disabilities.
Impediments related to translation issues – including confusingly translated factsheets and wait times of more than five hours for Spanish language translation services on the FEMA application hotline – have stymied the attempts of many who are applying for assistance. For individuals with disabilities, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters provided upon request were often neither fluent in Spanish nor fluent in the adapted ASL utilized by deaf residents of Puerto Rico. Home inspections were carried out without sign language interpretation for deaf applicants in several cases.
These translation failures have combined with other obstacles to hamper efforts of Puerto Rican residents to apply for assistance. A week-long power outage impacted major portions of the island following Hurricane Fiona, preventing many from applying for assistance over the phone. In addition, access to and from many of the most impacted areas was difficult for significant periods following the storm. Areas received Individual Assistance declarations at different times, meaning that many had shorter windows to apply for the program. Despite these issues, the deadline for assistance registration was not extended by FEMA.
“According to FEMA policy, extensions of a registration period can be granted upon request where it is warranted, including instances where it is: ‘necessary to establish the same registration deadline for subsequently designated contiguous areas; there is a continued high volume of registrations; and/or there are significant barriers to registration (i.e., extended loss of electricity)’,” reads the letter. “Puerto Rico met all requirements for an extension of the IA application period, and FEMA’s failure to approve the Puerto Rican government’s extension request represents a violation of due process for these disaster survivors.”
The letter requests that the application process be reopened; that in-person services be offered by Spanish-speaking employees in Puerto Rico and predominantly Spanish-speaking areas of the United States; that ASL interpreters in Puerto Rico be fluent in Spanish as well as Puerto Rico’s adapted ASL; that home inspections for deaf applicants be conducted with translators present; and that the FEMA Call Center be staffed immediately with enough translators to ensure that those in need of translation services have wait times similar to those of English-proficient callers.
Read the letter here.
Hurricane Ian Updates
President Biden declared a major disaster for Charleston, Georgetown, and Horry counties in South Carolina on November 21 after Hurricane Ian impacted coastal areas of the state in early October. Individual Assistance is approved for these areas and impacted households can apply at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Hurricane Ian has worsened the affordable housing shortage in Collier County, impacting displaced households as well as existing shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Members of the manufactured housing construction industry are pointing to manufactured homes as a solution to the housing needs in areas impacted by Hurricane Ian.
One survivor of Hurricane Ian remains in a wheelchair following a post-disaster car accident that occurred while she was en route to register for disaster assistance. She and the other members of her household are currently looking for permanent housing.
A city council meeting was held in Cape Coral, Florida, with the aim of passing a work around of FEMA’s “50% Rule,” which requires homes in flood-prone areas that were more than 50% destroyed by a disaster to be rebuilt up to current code standards.
More than a dozen environmental and community-based organizations are calling on the Florida legislature to create a special committee to address climate change.
Congressional and National Updates
The Biden administration issued a supplemental appropriations request for $3.5 billion in long-term recovery funds for major disasters in 2022 and 2023. The language of the request also called on Congress to permanently authorize the program. NLIHC is collecting organizational signatures in support of that effort.
State and Local
FEMA continues to work with the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management to help survivors and affected communities recover from July flooding, even though the FEMA registration deadline has passed. FEMA’s Disaster Recovery Centers have transitioned into Multi-Agency Resource Centers (MARCs) that offer survivors help with pending FEMA applications, appeals, and any disaster-related questions.
Nearly a year after the deadliest tornado in Kentucky history touched down in Warren County, the American Red Cross has selected the county as one of only eight pilot areas for a new Community Adaptation Program aimed at helping communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
FEMA will provide approximately $10 million in funds to Manville, New Jersey, through the agency’s Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Swift Current initiative. The funds are intended to help fortify the borough against future storms like Hurricane Ida, which impacted the community more than a year ago.
Hurricane Ida caused widespread damage to communities in New York and New Jersey when it struck in September 2021, yet to date fewer than 300 New York and New Jersey residents have received additional FEMA rental assistance designed to support disaster victims for as long as 18 months after a disaster occurs. FEMA supposedly distributed short-term housing aid to 19,500 displaced residents in New Jersey and New York – enough to cover up to two months of rent – but only 1.5% of these residents have received payments.