Disaster Housing Recovery Updates – May 3, 2021

The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition convenes and supports disaster-impacted communities to ensure that federal disaster recovery efforts reach all impacted households, including the lowest-income and most marginalized people who are often the hardest-hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover.        

Learn more about the DHRC’s policy recommendations here.   

FEMA Updates

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on April 27 swore in Deanne Criswell as FEMA’s 12th administrator, the first woman confirmed to serve in this role. NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel sent a letter to Administrator Criswell congratulating her on her confirmation and requesting a meeting on behalf of the DHRC. A supplemental memo was sent along with the letter, laying out potential administrative reforms that the agency could make to immediately and significantly improve equity and accessibility of FEMA programs. Read NLIHC’s 4/28 Memo for more information.

FEMA released a Request for Information asking for public input on policy changes that the agency could make to “effectively achieve FEMA’s mission in a manner that furthers the goals of advancing equity for all, including those in underserved communities, bolstering resilience from the impacts of climate change, particularly for those disproportionately impacted by climate change, and environmental justice.” This is an excellent opportunity for us to further DHRC’s goal of improving access to recovery funding for those most impacted by disasters. We will be asking for input on what to include in a DHRC-wide submission. The deadline to submit comments is June 21.

The Washington Post reports that approval rates for FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) program have plummeted just as natural disasters have become more frequent and severe. In 2021 so far, FEMA has approved only 13% of IA applicants – its lowest rate yet. The article highlights FEMA’s response in Iowa: Of the 22,000 Iowans who applied for aid, 19,000 people received notices saying they were not eligible. According to an advisory council established by Congress, key FEMA programs are less accessible to underserved communities, particularly people with the lowest incomes.

Roll Call reports that staffing at FEMA is at critical lows due to the agency’s work fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts say is setting back preparation for hurricanes. FEMA is responding to 118 major disasters across the country, 59 stemming from COVID-19. With about five weeks to prepare for hurricane season, 77% of staff are already deployed, according to a memo released at a daily briefing on April 25.

HUD Updates

The Biden administration announced on April 19 the release of a final $2 billion in Community Development Block Grant – Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funding approved for Puerto Rico almost two years ago. HUD also announced the removal of onerous restrictions unique to Puerto Rico that limited the island’s access to CDBG-DR recovery funds that were allocated following Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The HUD Office Inspector General (OIG) released a report on April 22 commenting on the initial implementation of these bureaucratic obstacles and chronic delay of recovery funding to Puerto Rico.

The HUD OIG cited several recommendations for improving the CDBG-MIT and related programs to avoid such delays in the future. Recommendations included permanently authorizing CDBG-MIT and related programs. The DHRC-supported “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” would do exactly that, while also improving transparency and ensuring these important recovery dollars reach those most in need of assistance after a disaster. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Al Green (D-TX) and Anne Wagner (R-MO) and successfully passed the House of Representatives last year. See NLIHC’s 4/28 Memo for more information.

NBC News and the Washington Post report on the HUD OIG’s report and the Biden administration’s decision to eliminate the restrictions implemented by the Trump administration.

Flooding, Severe Storms, & Tornadoes

President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Kentucky on April 23, making Individual Assistance and Public Assistance available to residents affected by the severe storms, flooding, and mudslides that occurred from February 27 to March 14, 2021. Kentuckians in Breathitt, Clay, Estill, Floyd, Johnson, Lee, Magoffin, Martin, and Powell counties can now apply for federal disaster assistance, including grants for temporary housing, home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other disaster-related needs.

President Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Alabama on April 26, making federal disaster aid available to residents in the areas affected by the severe storms, straight-line winds, and tornadoes from March 25-26, 2021. Homeowners and renters who suffered damage in the eight designated counties can apply for FEMA’s Individual Assistance.

Winter Storm

Louisiana homeowners and renters who sustained property damage or loss caused by the severe winter storms have two weeks left to register and apply for federal disaster assistance.