Congressional and Executive Actions
The U.S. House of Representatives returned from August recess to pass a raft of disaster recovery legislation on September 13 and 14. The bills included the “Wildfire Recovery Act,” which changes the federal cost share for FEMA wildfire assistance grants; the “PAW Act,” which creates a working group to study the impact of disasters on pets; and the “Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce Act,” which extends federal employment protections to FEMA reservists deployed to disaster areas. Both the PAW Act and the Civilian Reservist Emergency Workforce Act were previously passed in the U.S. Senate and will now go to President Biden for his signature.
The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing, “Recovery Update: Status of FEMA Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands 5 Years after Hurricane Irma and Maria,” on September 15. The hearing featured representatives from the Government Accountability Office; FEMA; the Puerto Rico Office of Recovery, Reconstruction, and Resiliency; the Puerto Rico Power Authority; and LUMA (Puerto Rico’s main energy utility).
The California Senate delegation sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell asking about progress in changing a 2019 rule that takes state financial resources into account when the agency weighs whether to approve Individual Assistance for a specific disaster. The Caldor Fire, which devastated the town of Grizzly Flats, California, in 2021, destroying 782 homes, did not receive an Individual Assistance approval.
September is National Preparedness Month! FEMA recently launched a new campaign in conjunction with the Ad Council encouraging the Black community to “create a lasting legacy” by preparing for disasters.
State and Local
The Mill Fire burned through portions of Siskiyou County in Northern California over Labor Day weekend. The fire began on September 2 near a lumber mill on the outskirts of Weed, a town of approximately 2,600 people that is 250 miles north of San Francisco. The fire quickly burned through the historically Black community of Lincoln Heights – one of the oldest established Black communities west of the Mississippi – killing two residents and destroying around 100 homes. The fire is the second to strike Weed in the last ten years: in 2014, the Boles Fire destroyed nearly one-third of the town’s housing stock.
Dramatic efforts to save homes from California’s Mosquito Fire were repeated again this week when the fire made a unpredictable turn to threaten more densely occupied portions of Placer County. Luckily, structure protection efforts have been largely successful: despite the fire growing to over 50,000 acres, fewer than 30 structures have been lost.
The Community Resilience Project in Cedar Rapids released a final report addressing recovery from the 2021 derecho that tore through areas of the city. The community-led project suggests ways the city and community can respond to future disasters.
FEMA announced that survivors of the devastating Eastern Kentucky floods have begun occupying FEMA temporary housing units. FEMA says that more than 200 households are waiting for these temporary housing solutions. But thousands still remain in need of assistance, and the current amount of individual assistance applications submitted represent only around half of the individuals impacted by the floods. Meanwhile, the deadline for disaster assistance applications – September 28 – is rapidly approaching.
Another 11 families who survived the Western Kentucky tornados have received temporary housing, thanks to community support. The families continue to wait for federal assistance.
Seventeen years after Hurricane Katrina, environmental justice remains a matter of life and death for Black communities in Louisiana, according to a recent article.
After the White House released a tweet commemorating Hurricane Katrina and linking the disaster with climate change, Louisiana Republicans were none-to-pleased.
Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith submitted a letter to the Biden administration requesting that the President include Jackson, Mississippi’s water infrastructure repairs in the list of funding priorities for the upcoming short-term funding bill issued by the White House.
New York residents are responding to the state’s call for comments concerning its plans to use HUD funds for disaster recovery in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that the state would be releasing additional funding for Hurricane Ida recovery, as federal funds have yet to reach disaster survivors. The state is proposing to allocate $152 million in an effort to help owners of rental housing repair damaged properties.
Six years after being displaced by Hurricane Harvey, some homeowners remain in limbo. State officials say that complications arising from the COVID-19 pandemic slowed efforts to reimburse homeowners, many of whom are still waiting for the construction of replacement homes.
An op-ed in the Texas Signal laments the lack of assistance being provided to low-income seniors five years after Hurricane Harvey.
U.S. Virgin Islands
The V.I. Housing Authority is proposing a new round of revisions to its $1.07 billion HUD-funded Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery plan. The revisions will refocus funds away from workforce development and tourism promotion and toward small business support.
The Virginia Congressional delegation is continuing to push for a federal disaster declaration in flood-impacted Southwest Virginia. Flash floods destroyed dozens of homes in Buchanan and Tazewell counties in July.
The Bipartisan Policy Center will be holding a panel discussion on September 19 regarding recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria.
DHRC member Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico will hold a panel, “5 Years After Hurricane Maria – Just Recovery: For Whom, and What For?,” on September 20. The panel will include NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel.
The Housing Assistance Council will be holding a training on September 21 focused on rural resilience.