NLIHC and DHRC Urge FEMA to Implement Program Changes, Authorize Greater Levels of Assistance in Response to COVID-19

NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor expressing the need for greater assistance from FEMA in communities across the country as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The letter, sent on behalf of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (comprised of more than 850 national, state, and local organizations, including many organizations working directly with disaster-impacted communities), calls on FEMA to adapt current programs and deploy its full range of disaster assistance tools to assist Americans, especially the lowest income households, during the pandemic.

FEMA moved quickly to utilize the agency’s Public Assistance (PA) programs to assist in coronavirus efforts and moving congregate housing residents into safe housing. However, the program relies on emergency orders and public health directives, many of which will expire as states lift stay-at-home orders. The letter states that FEMA must modify the program so that the most vulnerable individuals remain protected as the pandemic continues. The letter also calls on FEMA to make information on the non-congregate sheltering program more easily accessible to housing and homeless service organizations, which rely on up-to-date information to ensure the safety of the populations they serve.

In addition, the letter calls on FEMA to authorize its full range of assistance programs to address the pandemic. FEMA can implement a wide variety of assistance programs, ranging from direct rental assistance to funding for case management and legal services. As yet, it has neglected to do so, claiming that pandemic response is largely outside of the agency’s role. “Your decision to apply an unnecessarily narrow scope to FEMA’s role in responding to this public health crisis,” writes Diane, “is deeply unfortunate and should be immediately reversed, given the magnitude and scale of its impact on low-income and other marginalized people. By activating these programs now to address housing, financial, and legal needs, FEMA can help ensure that low-income households are not pushed even deeper into poverty and homelessness as a result of the pandemic.”

Read the full text of the letter at: