Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Federal Response

Congress

  • The House Small Business Committee held a hearing on September 5, 2018, to examine the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) response to the natural disasters in 2017 and to discuss the Agency’s disaster response efforts moving forward. Read the testimony and watch the recorded hearing.
  • Democratic congressional staff published a report on September 6 for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform titled, A Failure of Oversight: How Republicans Blocked a Credible Investigation of the Trump Administration’s Response to the 2017 Hurricanes. The report compares the Trump Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria to the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. An article about the report is available on Vox.com.
  • Twenty-four members of Congress sent a letter to House Leadership on September 6 opposing H.R. 4557, the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act. The letter, signed by both Democratic and Republican members of the House, raised concerns about the appropriateness of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program and HUD as “. . . stewards of taxpayer dollars and congressional appropriations. . .” to administer a coordinated response to catastrophic disaster recovery efforts.  The letter commits to working through these issues through a full discussion in committees of jurisdiction.
  • The Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing titled, Evaluating Federal Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts.  The GAO report on the federal government’s response to the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires will be discussed at the hearing, which has been postponed from September 13 to a later date due to Hurricane Florence.
  • The Hurricane Maria Conference: Reflecting on Catastrophe and Preparing for the Future will take place on September 20, 2018 from 9:30 am – 2:00 pm at the Capitol Visitor Center, Room 215, in Washington, DC. The conference is hosted by Representatives Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and will feature panelists from a variety of organizations, including National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, AirBnB, Center for American Progress, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. To RSVP for the event, email CHS.RSVP@mail.house.gov.

HUD

  • HUD issued a notice in the Federal Register advising that it is establishing an expedited process for reviewing requests for relief from HUD requirements—both administrative and regulatory-- for public housing agencies (PHAS) included in Presidentially-declared Major Disaster Declarations (MDD).
  • HUD, the Census Bureau, and FEMA released the New American Housing Survey (AHS) on September 6. For the second time in five years, the 2017 survey included questions related to disaster preparedness. The survey results indicated that “renters are three times more likely to need financial assistance to evacuate during a major disaster” than homeowners. Summary tables and data files with 2017 data are available for download.

FEMA

  • FEMA outlined in a Fact Sheet the more than $1.4 billion it has obligated for the Individual Assistance (IA) program for more than 463,000 families to help with repair, rebuilding, personal property loss and other non-insured losses from Hurricane Maria.

State Action

  • The Texas General Land Office (GLO) opened a public comment period for residents of Harris County and the City of Houston for an amendment to its State Action Plan for the distribution of $2.3 billion of the over $5 billion in CDBG-DR funding. The announcement is available here, and the HUD requirements are available in the Federal Register.

Local Perspectives

  • A story in AL DÍA, titled One year after Hurricane Maria: The Long Road to Recovery, features stories of survivors of Hurricane Maria who were displaced by the disaster and relocated to the Philadelphia region.

Resources

  • A webinar titled Employment Law Before and After a Disaster is scheduled for Thursday September 20 at 11:00 am EDT. The webinar is designed for Equal Justice Works Disaster Recovery Legal Corps fellows.  It is open to all advocates and attorneys interested in learning more about employment issues in the context of disaster cleanup, recovery, and disruption of survivors' livelihoods. 
  • The Urban Wire blog--a project of the Urban Institute--featured a post titled, Improving the disaster aid application process will ensure victims aren’t left behind.  According to the authors, the complex processes for applying and determining eligibility for disaster-related aid from federal agencies such as FEMA, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and HUD tend to leave behind individuals with disabilities and/or limited-English proficiency – groups that are already vulnerable and would benefit most from lower barriers. The post includes recommendations for how disaster relief agencies can improve the application process.

Hurricane Florence

  • In preparation for Hurricane Florence, Florida Governor Rick Scott announced that the state of Florida is prepared to offer resources and assistance to neighboring states of Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia, if impacted by the storm.  The commitment includes the following:
  • South Carolina Department of Corrections ordered prison staff and inmates located in the path of Hurricane Florence to remain in place, despite mandatory evacuation orders for communities most at risk for flooding. Read the article in The State.
  • FEMA issued Emergency Declarations related to Hurricane Florence at its website for these three states:  Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  These are the online locations—updated every 24 hours—where FEMA will post when Individual Assistance funding is approved for each disaster area. 
  • Portlight Strategies and the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies issued a statement in preparation for Hurricane Florence to remind members of the additional risks faced by “disaster impacted children and adults with disabilities, older adults and others with access and functional needs.” The announcement reiterated the organization’s commitment to supporting FEMA and all emergency managers, including its provision of a Disability Hotline (800) 626-4959 to offer emergency assistance for people with disabilities.