Members of Congress Call for Improved Disaster Housing Recovery Response

Members of Congress are calling for the administration to improve its disaster housing recovery response. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) introduced bills related to the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) and proof of residence, respectively. A House committee held a hearing on the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, and several representatives called for an extension of public comment periods on CDBG-DR plans for Puerto Rico.  

Senator Nelson introduced a bill on May 17 requiring FEMA to stand up DHAP for survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Maria through February 2019.  Two days prior, FEMA had denied the governor of Puerto Rico’s December 2017 request to activate DHAP. The bill’s cosponsors include Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).  More than 200 Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition member organizations sent a letter to Mr. Nelson on May 22, supporting the bill and urging him to attach the language to the Senate Federal Aviation Authorization bill, which must be enacted by Congress by September 30.

Representative Espaillat introduced the “Housing Victims of Major Disasters Act,” which would allow FEMA to accept alternative forms of proof of residence besides official documents, which many in Puerto Rico do not possess, in order to receive FEMA assistance. Mr. Espaillat held a press conference in New York City on May 21, where he expressed support for Hurricane Maria survivors and condemned the inadequate financial assistance provided to them by FEMA.

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on May 17 regarding the CDBG-DR program. (A recording of the proceedings can be viewed here.) Representatives Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), and Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) sent a letter to HUD Secretary Ben Carson asking for a 30-day extension for public comment period, public hearings by HUD, and official Spanish translations of the Allocation Notice and all CDBG-DR funding information related to Puerto Rico. They expressed concerns about the constraints the current two-week public comment period imposed on community leaders, advocates, and residents.