Congressional and National Updates
President Biden visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, with HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge and FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell on March 31 following an EF-4 tornado that claimed 13 lives and destroyed many homes. “We’re not just here for today,” the President said. “I’m determined that we’re going to leave nothing behind. We’re going to get it done for you. That’s why I’m here, why [members of] your Congress are here, why the governor is here. We’re focused on making sure you’ve got a place to sleep, food to eat, [and] helping you rebuild your lives in Rolling Fork.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a Watchblog post outlining how federal funding for disaster recovery and resilience could be better spent. The post outlines a variety of recommendations issued by the GAO over the last several years, including a recommendation that FEMA assess the accuracy of recent changes to home inspections that have resulted in awards decreasing by 35% and another recommendation that HUD better measure the impact of long-term recovery funding.
With negotiations over the upcoming Farm Bill continuing, some in Congress are pushing for greater funding for wildfire recovery and climate change mitigation.
Representative Joe Neguse (D-CA) and Representative John Curtis (R-UT) announced on March 24 that they would be re-forming the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus for the 118th Congress. Last year, the caucus, whose members push for wildfire mitigation and wildfire-related programs, grew to include 22 members of Congress.
FEMA celebrated its 44thbirthday on April 1. The agency was created by an executive order issued by President Jimmy Carter on April 1, 1979.
FEMA has expanded the comment period for its disaster-equity guide for local officials. Organizations and individuals will be able to comment on the guide through May 11. The DHRC submitted its comments in March.
HUD announced a request for comments regarding the implementation of new Federal Flood Management Standards, which detail flood mitigation requirements for HUD-funded construction in a series of expanded flood risk areas. The new standards reflect the expected impacts of climate change over the coming decades.
State and Local Updates
Homeowners whose houses were damaged by Hurricane Sally or Zeta in 2020 can now apply for grant money from the Alabama state government for repairs. The funds will be drawn from long-term recovery funding recently made available by HUD to the state.
The State of Alaska recently received a $38 million federal grant for climate-related housing. The grant will cover a wide variety of mitigation projects planned for remote arctic villages facing severe weather, like the recent Typhoon Merbok, as well as permafrost melt that is threatening entire communities.
On March 31, a strong tornado struck central Little Rock, damaging homes and businesses. Recovery efforts are continuing. FEMA’s Individual Assistance program has been approved to provide household-level assistance in Cross, Lonoke, and Pulaski counties.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, along with members of Congress and California’s state assembly, sent a barrage of requests to the White House for a major disaster declaration for the state following floods caused by a series of so-called “atmospheric rivers.” Those efforts paid off on April 3, when the White House granted the requests.
A new survey of Boulder-area Marshall Fire survivors shows that those with higher incomes are much further along in the disaster recovery process than those with the lowest incomes. Only 12% of the lowest-income disaster survivors have received building permits, as opposed to 43% of those in the highest-income bracket.
FEMA announced on March 24 that it would be extending operations for its hotel-room sheltering program, the Transitional Shelter Assistance Program. Program participants who are eligible for FEMA direct housing, or who received assistance from HUD prior to a disaster, will be permitted to reside in their current rooms until June 30, 2023. Other participants will need to leave by April 29, 2023.
Citing the conclusion of the first six months of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program, the State of Florida pulled backadditional employees from the town of Fort Myers Beach, which was heavily impacted by Hurricane Ian and being used to assist with permitting requests. The town government had faced a backlog of permitting requests during the initial phase of rebuilding and had approved more than 10,000 permits by utilizing the added capacity provided by the additional employees.
Hardee County has adopted a locally-led approach to disaster recovery after experiencing the impacts of Hurricane Ian.
Following last summer’s catastrophic flooding in eastern Kentucky, many of those affected are still in limbo. “People need housing now,” said Gerry Roll, chief executive of the nonprofit Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky. “They need a place to live now. They need to know there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.”
Despite the extreme need for affordable housing in eastern Kentucky, the largest regional investment currently being planned is a new federal prison, which will be built in Letcher County, one of the counties worst-impacted by flooding last year.
NOLA.com published an editorial addressing the catastrophic effects of a recent tornado in Mississippi and the hard lessons about disaster recovery that have been learned in Louisiana.
The Louisiana Housing Corporation hosted a Rental Restoration and Development Program workshop in Calcasieu Parish at the end of March. The program is providing assistance for the repair of residential rental units in areas impacted by Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and Ida.
Federal assistance from FEMA and other agencies is available to affected individuals in Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, and Sharkey counties.
The last survivors of the 2020 Labor Day Fires in Jackson County were able to move out of shelter paid for by the Oregon Department of Human Resources on March 23. A group of private companies, nonprofits, and faith-based institutions purchased four hotel properties to host disaster survivors over the long-term following the catastrophic fires.
IEM has been selected as the head contractor tasked with serving as program manager for the Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s HUD-funded $5-billion-disaster recovery program, which aims to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.