HUD 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. The majority of the over $8.2 billion in federal mitigation funding – meant to assist the territory in recovering from Hurricane Maria and increasing its resiliency to future disasters – had been released on January 20, 2021, when the agency partially approved Puerto Rico’s action plan outlining the intended use of the funds. These funds – provided to strengthen or relocate housing in danger of future disaster damage – were held back while HUD and Puerto Rican recovery and housing agencies finalized plans for their use.
HUD also announced removal of several onerous restrictions that limited the island’s access to the funds and created multiple additional requirements for their use. Under the previous administration’s CDBG-MIT rules, the territory was forced to seek certification from federal officials on the island before using the funds. NLIHC and members of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) – an NLIHC-led group of over 850 local, state, and national, organizations working to ensure disaster resources reach those with the greatest need – issued a statement when the restrictions were first introduced in 2019. “Exclusive federal control over Puerto Rican finances and disaster recovery funding is the wrong approach and would only exacerbate the inadequate recovery strategy that has left thousands of Puerto Ricans still living in damaged homes almost two years after Hurricanes Maria and Irma,” said Diane Yentel, National Low Income Housing Coalition president and CEO in the statement. “Such an approach reinforces a myth that Puerto Ricans are second-class citizens, unable or unwilling to control their own recovery.”
The HUD Office Inspector General (OIG) commented on the initial implementation of these bureaucratic obstacles and chronic delay of recovery funding to Puerto Rico in a report released April 22. The report found that the Office of Management and Budget placed unprecedented hurdles on HUD as the agency worked to release the funds and pressured the agency to separately release funding notices for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. These hurdles combined with a lengthy government shutdown to cause significant delays in Puerto Rico’s ability to fully recovery from 2017’s Hurricane Maria. The HUD OIG also reported that multiple senior level officials at the agency during the last administration refused to participate in interviews with the office and otherwise impeded the investigation.
The HUD OIG cited several recommendations for improving the CDBG-MIT and related programs to avoid such delays in the future including the permanent authorizing of 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.
Read the HUD press release at: https://bit.ly/3tMUvHI
Read the HUD OIG Report on delayed funding to Puerto Rico at: https://bit.ly/2Qq4Pqw
Read a copy of last year’s “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” at: https://bit.ly/3axxdOA