NLIHC Testifies in Support of Improved Long-Term Disaster Recovery Funding

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on July 15 on “CDBG Disaster Recovery: States, Cities, and Denials of Funding.” The hearing addressed equity in the allocation of critical disaster mitigation funding in Texas and the need for permanent authorization of the Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program, which is currently administered by HUD on an ad-hoc basis. NLIHC Vice President of Policy Sarah Saadian testified in support of permanently authorizing the program and implementing additional program requirements to ensure this major source of long-term disaster recovery funding reaches those most in need of assistance quickly and transparently.

Other witnesses at the hearing included: Carol Haddock, director of the Houston Department of Public Works and Engineering; Lina Hidalgo, county judge in Harris County; Heather Lagrone, deputy director of community development and revitalization at the Texas General Land Office; and Deputy Inspector General Stephen Begg from the HUD Office of the Inspector General.

The hearing comes after a decision by the Texas Government Land Office (GLO) to provide Harris County and the City of Houston with no funding from a recent allocation of almost $1 billion in federal mitigation funding for areas struck by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Hard-hit majority non-white and low-income areas such as Port Arthur and Beaumont also received no funding, while majority white, rural counties hundreds of miles from the Gulf Coast received funds. Elected officials in Houston and Harris County, along with advocacy groups in the area, lambasted the GLO for the decision, resulting in the subsequent allocation by the GLO of nearly $750 million in flood mitigation funding to Harris County. Long-time NLIHC partner Texas Housers has filed a civil rights complaint with HUD regarding the GLO’s initial allocation of funds.

While some statements and questions during the hearing focused on the GLO’s decision not to provide funding for areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey, committee members also focused on how permanent authorization of the program would prevent similar situations from occurring. The CDBG-DR program “is a vital tool that provides long-term, flexible, aid that helps communities repair after disasters and protect themselves from future harm” said Sarah in her opening testimony, “but too often the most marginalized survivors, those with the lowest incomes, people of color, people with disabilities, and others face enormous challenges accessing assistance under the program.”

In response to a question from Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC) about how permanent authorization of CDBG-DR would improve the program, Sarah stated that “the lack of authorization means that communities have less advanced knowledge of what requirements they will be held to and how program dollars can be used, which means they can’t prepare in advance of disasters and also means that money will reach them much more slowly.”

NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition supports the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” which would permanently authorize the CDBG-DR program and ensure that these important recovery funds are spent proportionally between homeowners, renters, and individuals experiencing homelessness. The funds would be balanced between infrastructure and housing-related projects. Sponsored by House Committee on Financial Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Al Green (D-TX) and Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO), the bill would create stronger requirements for public participation in creating spending plans and increase access to recovery-related information, ensuring that spending reflects community needs and that the process is transparent. The bill passed the House in 2019 and is expected to be introduced again in the coming months. 

Watch a recording of the hearing at:

Read Sarah’s written testimony at: