NLIHC Sends Letter Urging FEMA to Reinstate Reimbursement Policy for Pandemic-Era Non-Congregate Sheltering Programs in California

The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) sent a letter on March 27 to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell expressing deep concern regarding FEMA’s decision to retroactively deny reimbursement under its Public Assistance (PA) program to the State of California and multiple municipal governments for the operation of non-congregate sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter submitted by the DHRC – a group comprising more than 900 national, state, and local organizations, including many working directly with disaster-impacted communities and with first-hand experience recovering after disasters – called on FEMA to reverse course and act in accordance with its reimbursement policy. The letter was undersigned by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, National Housing Law Project, Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco, Justice in Aging, and Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California.

In spring 2020, California relocated thousands of homeless individuals into hotels to safeguard them against COVID-19 on the assumption that FEMA would cover a significant portion of the expenses. However, following an unexpected reversal by FEMA, local cities and counties in the state now find themselves responsible for the hundreds of millions of dollars in costs they anticipated FEMA would absorb, putting additional strain on their already limited budgets.

While the letter commended FEMA’s initial support for non-congregate sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic, it argues that by retroactively limiting eligibility, FEMA undermines the trust necessary to persuade state and local governments to rely on the agency’s stated commitments. The letter suggests that unless FEMA reverses its decision, localities will be less likely to use critical FEMA resources, even when this use is necessary to keep their residents safe during an emergency, for fear that FEMA may arbitrarily and retroactively change its policy.

Read the letter here.