Congressional and National Updates
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has a history of pushing for urgent action related to climate change. As the new chair of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, he is expected to continue that focus through a series of hearings.
Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) announced plans to reintroduce the “Resiliency Enhancement Act,” a bill to extend provisions of disaster assistance for critical services such as public housing, transportation infrastructure, and medical care infrastructure to cover areas still dealing with the impact of disasters dating back to 2017.
Congressman Buddy Carter (R-GA) is planning to reintroduce the “Disaster Reforestation Act.” The bill would allow the owners of working forests to claim the loss of uncut timber as a disaster impact on tax filings.
A census poll found that over 3 million adults in the U.S. were forced to evacuate their homes in the past year due to a disaster – far exceeding previous estimates. The census data – part of its Household Pulse survey that is continuing to collect information – also reflect that those earning less than $25,000 a year had the highest evacuation rate of any economic group.
President Biden appointed Xochitl Torres Small, who had previously assisted with the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon disasters as an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as a deputy secretary at the agency. Torres represented New Mexico in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2018 to 2020.
After being on the receiving end of several accusations of inaction by media, FEMA – which is not tasked with responding to incidents such as the East Palestine Train Derailment and does not operate programs that would offer assistance to either victims or first responders – announced a partnership with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine that would involve “deploying a Senior Response Official and a Regional Incident Management Assistance Team (IMAT) to support ongoing operations, including incident coordination and ongoing assessments of potential long-term recovery needs.”
FEMA is requesting feedback on a new guidance document, “Achieving Equitable Recovery: A Post-Disaster Guide for Local Officials.” Comments on the guide are due by March 15, 2023.
State and Local Updates
In Northern California, communities impacted by the Tubbs Fire five years ago continue to make strides to improve community resilience while progressing through the disaster recovery process.
An analysis of watersheds impacted by wildfires in Colorado found that funding for well-water systems and water infrastructure damaged by fire was slow to appear, hampering recovery efforts.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced that $63.5 million in HUD disaster recovery funds is now available for Hurricane Sally recovery to local governments in Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties.
Local groups in Eastern Kentucky – hit hard by flooding in 2022 – are hoping to tackle housing recovery in the region in a way that is justice-focused, culturally appropriate, environmentally sound, and that recognizes that many impacted families have generational ties to the areas where they live and hope to continue living.
A bill introduced in the New Mexico Senate would provide $100 million in zero-interest loans to local counties and municipalities via a bridge fund, as federal funding works its way towards the state. Governments that take the loan would subsequently repay the funds when they receive federal funding.
Although highly touted, ReBuild NC’s modular home program is failing to quickly deploy the manufactured housing solutions it promised. Instead, the majority of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Florence survivors in need of housing have been housed through stick-built homes.
A bill currently in the Oregon House of Representatives would allow fire and disaster survivors to get a 70% buyout from their insurance company instead of having to file inventory claims to submit to insurance companies.
Local disaster recovery advocates – including members of NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) – learned that FEMA plans to stop accepting appeals concerning denials of assistance after Hurricane Ida by the end of February. While disaster assistance does typically cease 18 months after a disaster, the agency typically extends provision of assistance past that date and also allow for denials of assistance to be appealed.
The editorial board at NOLA.com published a piece on the long wait for recovery aid programs in Lake Charles, which was hard-hit by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. Of issue is a requirement that applicants for HUD-funded long-term recovery assistance be rated as having received major damage by FEMA via an assessment process biased against lower-income residents.
With an additional flood emergency declared in the state earlier in February, a state-level bill on flooding resiliency continues to work its way through the legislative process. Senate Bill 677 would clarify the role and responsibilities of the State Resiliency Officer, a position created through numerous hearings of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding formed in the wake of devastating 2016 floods that hit regions of the state.