Senate Committee Passes Universal Application Bill, though Questions Remain about Integration with Other Long-Term Recovery Programs

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a markup hearing on August 3 during which 28 bills were unanimously approved. Among these bills was a measure to create a universal application for disaster assistance via a FEMA-run website. The bill, known as the “Disaster Assistance Simplification Act,” would task FEMA with managing the site and controlling the distribution of application information to other federal agencies involved in disaster recovery, including the Small Business Administration (SBA) and HUD.

The creation of a universal application would be a significant step forward in ensuring access to disaster assistance and has long been called for by the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition. However, the bill also raises significant questions about how such an application would mesh with HUD-funded long-term recovery programs administered by state and local governments.

Unlike FEMA or SBA programs, which are administered either directly by the agency or in direct partnership with state and local governments, flexible long-term HUD recovery funds provided via the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program are administered directly by state and local governments. While HUD does approve the planned use of the funds, the agency does not directly control the application process for the funds. At the same time, because CDBG-DR funds are meant to be flexible and apply to a wide range of needs following disasters, programs often differ in scope, meaning that different application information would be needed for different disasters. It is unclear from the bill language how the unique attributes of the CDBG-DR program would be reconciled with a universal application coordinated by FEMA.

Similar language was included in a disaster recovery reform package recently passed by the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Both bills now head to the floor of their respective chambers.

Read the text of the Disaster Assistance Simplification Act at: