NLIHC Testifies Before Congress on Disaster Recovery Reform

The U.S. House Committee on Financial Services’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing, “Ensuring Equitable Delivery of Disaster Benefits to Vulnerable Communities and Peoples: An Examination of GAO’s Findings of the CDBG Program,” on January 19. The hearing addressed HUD’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, the main source of federal funds for long-term disaster recovery. The hearing focused on the findings of recent reports on the program by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the HUD Office of the Inspector General (OIG), as well as the need for reforms in disaster recovery. NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel provided testimony at the hearing, as did NLIHC board member and Houston HOME Coalition Director Chrishelle Palay, HousingNOLA Executive Director Andreanecia Morris, GAO Managing Director of Financial Markets and Community Investment Daniel Garcia-Diaz, and HUD OIG Deputy Inspector General Stephen Begg.

Discussions at the hearing revolved mostly around the need for permanent authorization of the CDBG-DR program. Without permanent authorization, HUD must draft and release program policies whenever Congress approves funds under the program. This means that funds take longer to reach disaster survivors and that program requirements constantly change, precluding those states and localities receiving funds from anticipating them ahead of time. A bill currently under consideration in the House and Senate, the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” would permanently authorize the program and create a framework of program rules to ensure that disaster recovery aid reaches those most in need of assistance quickly and efficiently. Passing this bipartisan bill – which was introduced by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Todd Young (R-IN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Representative Al Green (D-TX) – is among the main policy priorities of the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC), an NLIHC-led group of over 850 local, state, and national organizations working together to ensure that all disaster survivors receive the assistance they need to fully recover.

In her testimony, Diane Yentel highlighted the importance of CDBG-DR for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of disasters. “People with low incomes and marginalized individuals are most likely to live in communities that are the hardest hit by natural disasters and most likely to live in housing that is not built to withstand them,” she explained. “The CDBG-DR program is a vital recovery tool that provides states and communities with the flexible, long-term recovery and mitigation resources needed to rebuild affordable housing and infrastructure after a disaster and to prevent future harm.” She also reiterated the fact that, without permanent authorization and a stable framework, the program will continue distributing funds to disaster survivors too slowly while spending them in ways that often entrench disparities and worsen inequality.

Andreanecia Morris of Housing NOLA agreed about the need to distribute CDBG-DR funds equitably, explaining in her testimony that “it is clear that recovery efforts need to center the needs of the most vulnerable, not the squeakiest wheel.” Chrishelle Palay of the Houston HOME Coalition emphasized the negative impact of not authorizing the CDBG-DR program, asserting that “there is no reason why recovery efforts should restart from scratch every time. Storm survivors should have the right to return home to neighborhoods that have adequate storm protection and other essential infrastructure.”

Testimony from the GAO highlighted a recent report that found that an equity analysis of the CDBG-DR program was impossible because grantees were not required to report demographic information necessary to evaluate whether funds were reaching non-white households and households with lower incomes. The HUD OIG testimony focused on a report describing a conflict between the city of Houston and the Texas government that resulted in disaster survivors of Hurricane Harvey having to wait more than five years for resources. In their testimony, officials from the GAO and the HUD OIG strongly recommended permanent authorization of the program to address such problems and ensure that there exist standardized rules for the distribution of recovery assistance, the reporting of information, the combatting of fraud, and other operations.

Watch a recording of the hearing at:

Read Diane Yentel’s testimony at: