Congressional and Executive Action
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing, “Supporting Underserved Communities in Emergency Management,” on July 19. Witnesses included Denise Bottcher (AARP Louisiana), Barbara Ammirati (Save the Children), Antoine Richards (Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management), Preston Bowlin (emergency management director for Marion County, FL), and Marcie Roth (executive director and CEO of the World Institute on Disability).
In a July 20 statement by the White House, President Biden reiterated the clear and present danger climate change presents to the United States and announced the latest in a series of executive actions meant to address the crisis. To combat the disproportionate impacts of extreme heat, the President will again double the level of funding for FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program, bringing the amount to $2.3 billion, and the administration aims to ensure that 40% of those funds are used to assist disadvantaged communities. President Biden also expanded access to community cooling centers and assistance for home air conditioning costs through the Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Several FEMA programs were added to the White House’s Justice40 Initiative, which calls for steering 40% of clean energy, climate change, affordable housing, training and workforce development, and additional federal funds toward historically marginalized populations disproportionately affected by pollution. The FEMA programs include the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program; the Risk Mapping, Assessment, and Planning program; and the Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant program.
Slate interviewed former FEMA director Craig Fugate concerning FEMA’s role in addressing climate change for its “What Next?” podcast.
HUD announced on July 15 that 24 of the agency’s programs would be included in the White House’s Justice40 initiative. (See above for more information about the initiative.)
State and Local
The Camp Fire of 2018 destroyed 90% of the mobile park homes in Paradise, CA. Recovery efforts have largely failed to rebuild these homes due to a variety of difficulties. The resulting lack of affordable, accessible homes is causing many to leave.
A federally funded buyout program for people who own homes or undeveloped or vacant properties affected by the 2018 eruption of the Kilauea volcano has opened. The maximum award for property owners is $22,000. The maximum award for eligible primary homes is $230,000. The funds are made possible via HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program.
Some survivors of the December tornados that struck Kentucky remain homeless due to FEMA’s denial of applications for assistance. Although 15,000 applications for assistance were received by FEMA, the agency found that 6,000 were ineligible – a denial rate of 40%.
Casey Tingle, the director of the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that despite having learned lessons from past disasters, disaster recovery still remains a challenge. The office has been relying on neighboring states and the faith-based and non-profit sectors for support.
Disaster recovery centers have begun to open up in areas affected by the Yellowstone floods last month. FEMA stated on July 11 that it had approved around 300 Montanans for assistance.
A 12-member subcommittee of the North Carolina Legislature will be investigating the state’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency’s handling of Hurricane Matthew disaster relief funds. The move was largely prompted by a series of investigative articles by NC Policy Watch detailing the experiences of households left behind by the program.
A family was denied assistance in the wake of the historic wildfires that have recently impacted New Mexico. FEMA claimed the reason was that the family’s home remained habitable. In fact, the home had burned to the ground.
In response to claims by the Texas General Land Office that the agency would be asking for disaster recovery dollars to be repaid due to a failure to meet planning and implementation benchmarks, the City of Houston responded by chastising the GLO for “continuous efforts to hinder [the City of Houston’s] success.”
Resources and Research
Freddie Mac released a study on how states are protecting affordable housing properties from disasters. The study, which deals only with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), found that 32 states have measures aimed at protecting affordable housing properties from disasters and 27 states state have provisions that aid recovery. Seventeen states have both, and nine states have neither.