The White House proposed on October 27 a comprehensive funding request of nearly $56 billion to address domestic priorities. The request – which is unlikely to align with the proposals emerging from budget conversations in the U.S. Congress – proposes significant funding for disaster relief efforts, including the allocation of more than $23 billion to support communities across the U.S. that have been severely impacted by a natural disasters like wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes.
Of the funds dedicated to disaster recovery, $9 billion is intended to enhance FEMA's ability to provide rapid assistance by strengthening the agency’s disaster relief fund. Another $2.8 billion will go towards helping HUD respond to impacts on housing needs resulting from these natural disasters. Other allocations include $2.8 billion in aid for farmers and ranchers who have suffered crop losses, $16 billion to support child care centers, and $6 billion to extend the Affordable Connectivity Program, ensuring access to high-speed internet for tens of millions of low-income families through December 2024.
Financial expert Dave Ramsey strongly recommends that renters purchase rental insurance for multiple benefits, including the protection of personal belongings, liability coverage, assistance with relocation costs, and satisfying landlord requirements. Such insurance not only safeguards renters’ possessions from fire, theft, or disasters and covers liability and relocation expenses but is also budget-friendly, costing an average of under $300 per year. Insurance is sometimes a requirement for lease approval, serving to minimize landlords’ liability and indicate tenant responsibility.
Rising home prices and high insurance rates, exacerbated by extreme weather events, are increasing the risk of homelessness for many Americans. A study by the nonprofit First Street Foundation highlights the challenge of obtaining affordable insurance for residences in areas prone to dangerous weather events, leading to climate-related migration. California has seen a significant increase in the number of buildings destroyed by wildfires, as well as an increase in insurance denials in high-risk areas. This trend could lead to declining property values in high-risk areas and rising property values in urban centers, further driving up housing costs. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change is expected to exacerbate the cycle of rising insurance rates, housing costs, and homelessness.
Researchers have presented the first spatially interactive land change model that combines urban growth predictions with human migration and flood responses. The researchers propose shifting flood risk modeling from pinpointing vulnerable areas to assessing population adaptation. Their study indicates that accounting for migration can reduce projected flood exposure by 5% to 24% by 2050, depending on the flood hazard zone. Managed retreat emerges as the most effective intervention to reduce exposure, while business-as-usual scenarios require safeguarding or abandoning developments to cope with future floods. Their open framework can be applied to various regions for risk assessment.
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means unanimously approved H.R. 5863, a bill providing tax relief for those affected by recent disasters. The legislation expands the exclusion from income of disaster relief payments to cover losses and expenses resulting from federal disasters related to forest or range fires since December 31, 2014, as well as the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment on February 3, 2023. The bill also extends personal-casualty loss rules introduced in the “Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020,” allowing deductions for qualified losses exceeding $500 without the need for them to exceed 10% of adjusted gross income and extending the availability of this treatment to disasters declared 30 days after its enactment. However, even though the Ways and Means Committee approved the bill, its enactment remains uncertain. Disaster relief bills are typically bipartisan, but the bill’s cost – nearly $5 billion – may create opposition in light of recent concerns about deficits.
Queer individuals face unique challenges during natural disasters and social emergencies, as disaster responses often prioritize cisgender and heterosexual communities. Discrimination based on gender presentation and family structures, dependence on mainstream emergency services, isolation from community, and intersecting identities can put queer and trans individuals at risk by manifesting in hostile temporary living environments. Such challenges are exacerbated by other pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as mental health challenges, lack of access to healthcare, and social determinants of health, like income and housing disparities. To address these issues, LGBTQ+ awareness training should be made available to all disaster response staff, public spaces should be welcoming for queer individuals, and queer services should be supported during and after disasters. Mutual aid organizations and community networks are vital for supporting queer communities in emergencies.
State and Local Updates
In March 2023, an EF3 tornado struck Little Rock, Arkansas, causing extensive damage to the community. The aftermath of this natural disaster has presented significant challenges for the affected area, including property destruction and infrastructure damage. While initial volunteer assistance was substantial, community support gradually decreased as the disaster receded from public attention. Residents in the impacted areas are now confronted with the extended and costly process of rebuilding their homes and their lives. The path to recovery is anticipated to be demanding, with residents having to navigate insurance claims, secure new housing, and recover lost possessions.
Five years after the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures, the town is still struggling to recover. Only a third of the pre-fire population has returned, and the recovery has been slow and costly. Paradise, once an affordable community in California, is now undergoing significant changes to ensure it is more resilient to wildfires, including strict building codes and the removal of one million trees. The recovery process has faced challenges, including housing and labor shortages in the area. While progress has been made, there is still a long road ahead for survivors.
The Florida Senate Fiscal Committee has unanimously approved legislation for hurricane recovery aid. The bill, originally proposed by Representative Corey Simon, includes provisions for tax assessments of unused agricultural equipment at salvage value, sales tax refunds on hurricane repair materials, and the authorization of state departments to offer financial assistance. The legislation allocates over $400 million for various initiatives, such as mitigation grants, federal disaster relief matching funds, and housing recovery efforts. Rep. Simon’s bill also focuses on repairing hurricane damage, enhancing emergency management systems, and strengthening the agricultural industry. The bill aims to support those affected by Hurricane Idalia, which resulted in insured losses nearing $300 million that primarily impacted residential properties.
Orange County is set to receive $219.7 million through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program. The county is seeking input from residents on how to allocate the funds to address unmet needs related to Hurricane Ian, including long-term recovery, infrastructure restoration, housing, and economic revitalization, as well as disaster mitigation. The county has conducted meetings to gather community input and will publish a draft action plan for public comments this month. The next steps include a County Commission public hearing in December 2023 and submission of the action plan to HUD for review in January 2024. The CDBG-DR program is expected to launch in early 2024.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated cleanup efforts focused on hazardous materials in commercial properties in Lahaina, Maui. These properties pose unique challenges due to their size, safety, and increased levels of hazardous materials, which extend the cleanup timeline. EPA’s Phase I work is in progress, targeting the most technically difficult properties. After this phase, the Army Corps will remove all remaining debris from properties. Residential properties were prioritized initially, and the focus remains on controlling the spread of ash and toxic debris. So far, 90% of hazardous materials have been removed from burned properties in Lahaina.
State lawmakers in Hawaii have proposed “bold action” to address the risk of wildfires in the wake of the massive Maui fires that struck on August 8, 2023. Six House committees have spent months developing findings and recommendations to provide a roadmap for the 2024 Legislature to address shortcomings in wildfire prevention and management efforts. Recommendations include strengthening various agencies and practices related to housing, food production, emergency supply distribution, and more. Some proposals are straightforward, such as providing funding for food banks and childcare services, while others involve detailed recommendations about land and water use and promoting responsible tourism. The reports emphasize the need for unity in crafting short- and long-term solutions and highlight the urgency of legislative action. Public hearings will be held to gather feedback on these recommendations, with the goal of finalizing a report by December 15, followed by legislative consideration in 2024.
A recent survey by the Hawaii Department of Health in Lahaina found that two months after the wildfires, Lahaina wildfire survivors are primarily concerned about financial recovery and securing permanent housing. Over half of households are still in temporary housing, and many are dealing with mental and physical health challenges. The survey showed that 26% prioritize financial recovery, while 24% are focused on finding permanent housing. Despite facing challenges, 78% of respondents opted to stay on Maui. Mental health concerns have grown, with 22% reporting poor mental well-being. Respondents also highlighted issues like safety, government transparency, transportation, business losses, and fire prevention. The survey aimed to connect households with services, resulting in 94 follow-up referrals for various forms of assistance.
FEMA announced on November 3 that it will conclude its temporary housing program for survivors of the deadly July 2022 flooding in eastern Kentucky on January 29, 2024. Following a disaster declaration, 129 households in the region were placed in temporary housing, with 77 of them finding permanent housing through the program. Survivors have been notified of the program's end and will receive a letter 90 days before the deadline. While the FEMA program is ending, assistance remains available for homeowners and renters, with survivors urged to contact their disaster case manager or local agencies for help finding suitable housing. The program was initiated in response to severe flooding in eastern Kentucky in July 2022, which claimed approximately 45 lives.
FEMA, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Ontario County officials are hosting a Flood Risk and Insurance Open House to discuss updated Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for Ontario County. The new maps aim to increase transparency, help residents make informed decisions, and guide floodplain management regulations. Approximately 200 structures may no longer be in the high-risk flood zone, while close to 3,000 properties may be added to the high-risk zone. An appeal period will be advertised by FEMA, allowing property owners to submit appeals based on technical or scientific information before the new FIRMs become effective in spring 2024.
The North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency (NCORR) has allocated $43.2 million from the Affordable Housing Development Fund (AHDF) to four municipal governments and the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina to enhance community resilience. The funds will be used to increase the availability of safe, affordable housing in areas of the state that suffered significant damage from hurricanes Matthew and Florence. The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina received funding to build 30 single-family homes targeting individuals at 80% or below the Area Median Income, including veterans and those with physical disabilities. The AHDF Program is supported by North Carolina’s HUD Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funding.