Updates on Disaster Recovery Developments since Last Week’s Memo

Disaster RecoveryThe following is a review of developments related to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and to disaster recovery efforts since last week’s Memo to Members and Partners (for the article in last week’s Memo, see 9/5). NLIHC has created a Hurricane Housing Recovery email distribution list and sends out multiple updates each week. NLIHC also posts this information at our On the Home Front blog. If you would like to be added to the distribution list, please contact Diane Yentel, dyentel@nlihc.org.

Congress

Congress approved on September 8 a bill to provide $15 billion in disaster relief, fund the government, and raise the federal debt limit through December 8. President Trump signed the measure into law on the same day. The law provides $7.4 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, $450 million in Small Business Administration disaster loans, and $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds. Under the newly enacted law, FEMA will have flexibility to respond to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, as well as other disasters. (See more under “Budget and Appropriations” in this Memo.)

Twenty-three organizations, including NLIHC, issued a joint statement calling on Congress to swiftly appropriate funds for Hurricane Harvey relief, and to do so with emergency funding that is not offset by cuts to other important programs. The statement asserts that the rebuilding process must result in a smarter and fairer distribution of affordable housing so that options available to low income people, particularly low income people of color, are not limited to high-poverty, highly segregated, geographically vulnerable neighborhoods. In this regard, Houston must resolve the problems related to the location of its assisted housing that were identified by HUD in its recent Title VI finding. It is essential that those affected have meaningful access to emergency and recovery-related services, including those who are blind, deaf and hard of hearing, and regardless of ability to speak English or citizenship status.

Hurricane Harvey

FEMA

By the Numbers (as of Saturday morning):

  • 218,701 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved
  • $284,087,432 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $163,917,266 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $120,701,166 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long named Michael Byrne as the federal disaster recovery coordinator (FDRC). Mr. Byrne will work under the direction of Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin Hannes and State Coordinating Officer/Governor’s Authorized Representative Nim Kidd. Mr. Byrne will facilitate disaster recovery collaboration between federal, tribal, state, local governments, and the private sector, including community organizations. Mr. Byrne has more than 30 years of experience in disaster management and recovery, including serving as the federal coordinating officer for Hurricane Sandy.

FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) are now open in Baytown, Columbus, Dallas, Edna, Goliad, two in Houston, Ingleside, Katy, La Grange, Magnolia, Missouri City, Port Lavaca, Simonton, and Victoria to provide disaster survivors with information and resources. DRCs will continue to open in other locations identified by the state. Survivors can go to the DRC Locator to find the closest location.

Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams (DSATs) are located in key locations, like shelters, helping survivors who may not be near a DRC to register for disaster assistance, get referrals to community partners, and obtain help with immediate and emerging needs.  

FEMA enhanced the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims process and extended the grace period for paying policy renewal premiums. FEMA is directing all NFIP private insurance companies to provide advance payments even before visits by an adjuster. A policy holder can receive an advance payment for up to $5,000 without an adjuster visit or additional documentation. Up to $20,000 can be advanced if an applicant provides photos or videos showing damage as well as receipts or contractor estimates.

FEMA resources are available in other formats and languages to reach people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs and people who speak Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

HUD

In a radio interview, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said he hopes to “get rid of a lot of the red tape” during efforts to re-house displaced households who rely on HUD-supported housing. He said he does not see potential budget cuts, like the Administration’s proposed elimination of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, as an obstacle to disaster relief.

A media release jointly issued by HUD, FEMA, and the Small Business Administration states that those agencies are “focused on identifying strategies to strengthen the housing market, building inclusive and sustainable communities, and integrating disaster mitigation measures into community design and development, to reduce future damages.” The joint letter lists short-term as well as intermediate and long-term housing activities.

HUD issued a Situation Report on September 7. Highlights of the report include:

  • There are 42 public housing agencies with 773 properties containing 199,494 public housing units in the Hurricane Harvey impact area.
  • There are 454 Multifamily properties containing 50,818 units, 20,971 of which are assisted.
  • The Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) field staff are in regular contact with affected public housing authorities (PHAs) to gather information on families displaced, units available for leasing, and impacts to properties. As data become available, they are entered in the daily and weekly reports to HUD headquarters. All PHAs have been advised of flexibilities PIH can offer, such as postponed physical inspections and reporting extensions.
  • The Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) advises that CDBG-DR funds be used to provide financial support for the development of an environmental health and housing registry.
  • HUD’s Office of Policy and Research is working with FEMA to facilitate the transfer of information to allow HUD to identify the assisted housing residents in FEMA shelters and hotels. This will allow HUD to coordinate with grantees to get those families rehoused.
  • Information on persons with Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) assistance will be delayed because PHAs need time to assess the habitability of all privately-owned rental properties. PIH will report any relevant information as it is received.
  • HUD-assisted persons are being told by other agency staff that they are not eligible for FEMA assistance and should go through their PHA for assistance.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

In a media release, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez announced that representatives from numerous federal and state law enforcement agencies have formed a working group to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Harvey.

“This disaster has brought and will continue to bring unprecedented human and financial loss to our communities, and victims of this event have already suffered staggering devastation,” said Martinez. “The last thing that victims of this damage need is to be victimized again. Under the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, we bring a comprehensive law enforcement focus to combat any criminal activity arising from the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the rebuilding efforts underway.”

The Disaster Fraud Hotline, 1-866-720-5721, is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The public can also send an email or fax information to 225-334-4707.

In addition, the Texas Attorney General’s Office is asking Texans to contact the state’s Consumer Protection Division and file a complaint if they feel they have encountered price gouging, have been scammed, or have fallen victim to a charities fraud. They can call the toll-free hotline at 800-621-0508, send an email, or file a complaint online.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and FEMA have developed guidance for impacted states, localities, and other federal recipients on how to effectively communicate with the whole community and carry out their disaster-related activities in a non-discriminatory manner.

DHS issued a statement about immigration enforcement, stating, “Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.” In addition, ICE detainees from the Port Isabel Detention Center were temporarily transferred to various other detention facilities outside the path of destruction.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS)

IRS now has a webpage devoted to Hurricane Harvey.

Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Tennessee are implementing IRS Revenue Procedures 2014-49 and 2014-50, allowing owners of Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties to provide up to twelve months of emergency housing to households that have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey, even if they are not income-eligible.

IRS Notice 2017-48 reminds employers that have adopted or may be considering adopting leave-based donation programs that employees can elect to forgo vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments that the employer makes to charitable organizations described in §170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.

USDA Rural Development (RD)

RD issued a letter outlining ways the agency can provide assistance to homeowners affected by the hurricane. RD also provides assistance for new grants and help to existing loan and grant recipients. RD-assisted homeowners are urged to contact their local Rural Development State Office by email or telephone regarding questions about their loan or grant.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

FNS’s Food Assistance for Disaster Relief webpage contains FAQs about food assistance in disaster situations, various programs such as Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) disaster response, fact sheets, and other related information.

FNS is providing assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and waiving some regulations to make food more accessible to SNAP recipients, school children, seniors, and people who have fled Texas to other states because of Hurricane Harvey. 

Waivers:

FNS has granted several waivers in Texas allowing schools in the National School Lunch Program to provide free meals. It has also provided more flexibility to schools regarding what they can feed children given the challenges of preparing specific foods during this period. Details about the waivers are here.

Short- and Long-term Plans:

FNS and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission announced a number of immediate actions as well as long-term plans for ensuring Texans affected by Hurricane Harvey have access to food through SNAP and D-SNAP.

Effective immediately, the plan involves a number of short-term solutions including issuing replacement benefits to SNAP households that lost food in the disaster and waivers simplifying state administration of the program. FNS and Texas are simultaneously preparing for longer-term solutions including D-SNAP, which will be implemented once the commercial channels of food distribution have been restored and families are back in their homes. D-SNAP provides streamlined and expanded nutrition assistance after a disaster.

D-SNAP:

Another FNS media release indicates that to simplify program administration in disaster conditions, the D-SNAP application and eligibility process is shortened and streamlined. In times when D-SNAP becomes necessary, low income households not normally eligible under regular program rules may qualify for D-SNAP if they meet the disaster income limits, which are slightly higher than normal, and meet qualifying disaster-related criteria such as loss of income, damage to property, and relocation expenses. In addition, ongoing SNAP clients may also receive disaster assistance in the form of a supplement when their benefits are less than the monthly maximum, to help replace food destroyed in the disaster.

Using SNAP in Other States:

On September 2, FNS issued special procedures that give all states flexibility in providing expedited SNAP benefits to families who have evacuated their homes and moved outside Texas as a result of Hurricane Harvey. FNS is offering all SNAP state agencies the choice of using the program’s expedited service provisions or offering evacuees two months of disaster benefits using streamlined program procedures under a special Evacuee Policy designed in response to Hurricane Harvey.

Local Resources

  • The Texas Workforce Commission has a special Hurricane Harvey webpage.
  • The website for Disability Rights Texas has several resources for people with disabilities:
  • Texas Appleseed and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty have a fact sheet to help parents of pre-K through 12th grade students displaced by the hurricane to navigate their rights to attend school.
  • The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty provides disaster-specific guidance in its report “Homeless Education Advocacy Manual.”
  • Despite a fire destroying their offices, Lone Star Legal Aid is assisting with FEMA applications and preparing for eventual appeals.
  • The Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas is providing $6.7 million in grants to members’ employees, small businesses, and community based organizations involved in recovery efforts.
    • $4.5 million will assist member banks’ employees whose homes were damaged or destroyed. The maximum grant is $10,000. If these funds are not used by November 15, the remainder will be available to assist qualified households in the general public.
    • $2 million will assist small businesses. The maximum grant is $15,000.
    • $225,000 will assist community-based organizations involved with affordable housing to help meet their operating needs while assisting with recovery efforts. The maximum grant is $10,000.
  • Santa Barbara-based real estate software developer Yardi has donated $1 million to support relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey and has launched a website to help displaced residents find housing. Yardi is using its RENTCafe property marketing and leasing platform to create a housing registry website to help displaced residents find temporary and permanent homes. There is no charge for housing providers to list their properties or for residents to use the registry.
  • The Houston Association of Realtors has launched a website to help people find short-term housing.
  • The Texas House Urban Affairs Committee met on September 7 to discuss short- and long-term plans for those displaced by flooding. Governor Abbott will not call for a Harvey-related special legislative session.
  • Houston officials are considering leasing a warehouse in east downtown to provide a year of housing for up to 300 Harvey flood victims still sheltered at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The city is working with New Hope Housing on this endeavor.
  • Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hopes to end emergency shelter operations at the convention center sometime next week.
  • The Houston Apartment Association asking area landlords to make units available for publicly-funded interim housing with terms of at least six months.

Hurricane Irma

FEMA

Florida

President Trump declared on September 5 that an emergency exists in Florida because of Irma, authorizing FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts for all 67 counties. Justo Hernández was named FCO for federal recovery operations in Florida. Subsequently on September 10, a major disaster was declared for the state of Florida. FEMA has a webpage for Florida Hurricane Irma (DR-3347).

All 67 counties in Florida are eligible to apply for Public Assistance (PA), making federal funds available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments, as well as certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance. For the 30-day period following the disaster declaration, assistance for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, is authorized at 100% of the total eligible costs (instead of the standard 75%). Hazard Mitigation Grants are also available for all 67 counties at the 75% cost-sharing rate.

People in nine counties are eligible to apply for Individual Assistance (IA), which can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. The forms of assistance include:

  • Rental payments for temporary housing. Initial assistance may be provided for up to three months for homeowners and at least one month for renters. Assistance may be extended after the initial period based on a review of individual applicant requirements.
  • Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items not covered by insurance to make damaged dwellings safe, sanitary, and functional.
  • Grants to replace personal property and help meet medical, dental, funeral, transportation, and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance or other federal, municipality, and charitable aid programs.
  • Unemployment payments for up to 26 weeks for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and who do not qualify for state benefits, such as self-employed individuals.
  • Low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance. Loans are available of up to $200,000 for primary residence, and of up to $40,000 for personal property, including renter losses. Loans are available up to $2 million for business property losses not fully compensated by insurance.
  • Loans from SBA of up to $2 million for small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and most nonprofit organizations of all sizes that have suffered disaster-related cash flow problems and need funds for working capital to recover from the disaster's adverse economic impact. This loan in combination with a property loss loan cannot exceed $2 million.
  • Loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency of up to $500,000 for farmers, ranchers, and aquaculture operators to cover production and property losses, excluding primary residence.
  • Other relief programs, including: crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster; income tax assistance for filing casualty losses; and advisory assistance for legal, veterans’ benefits, and social security matters.
U.S. Virgin Islands

Mr. Trump declared on September 7 that a major disaster exists in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands and ordered federal aid to supplement recovery efforts in the territory due to Hurricane Irma. This declaration makes federal funding available for Individual Assistance (IA) to affected people on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas, and public assistance and hazard mitigation grants available to St. Croix, as well as St. John and St. Thomas. On September 10, the disaster declaration was modified to authorize 90% federal cost-share for debris removal, including direct federal assistance, and a 100% federal cost-share for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance. These percentages will be in effect for 30 days from the start of the incident period, afterward a 90% federal cost-share will be applied (the standard ratio is 75%). FEMA has a webpage for Virgin Islands Hurricane Irma (DR-4335). William L. Vogel has been named as the federal coordinating officer (FCO) for federal recovery operations in the affected area.

Puerto Rico

Mr. Trump declared on September 5 that an emergency exists for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, authorizing FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts for all 78 municipalities there. Subsequently on September 10, a major disaster was declared for Puerto Rico, making Individual Assistance available for people in the municipalities of Culebra and Vieques, and making Public Assistance available at a 75% federal cost-share for those two municipalities. FEMA has a webpage Puerto Rico Hurricane Irma (DR-4336). Alejandro DeLaCampa was named the FCO for federal recovery operations in the affected areas.  

Georgia

Mr. Trump declared on September 7 that an emergency exists in Georgia, authorizing FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts in 94 counties. FEMA has a webpage for Georgia Hurricane Irma (EM-3387). Thomas J. McCool was named the FCO for federal response operations in the affected area.

South Carolina

Mr. Trump declared on September 7 that an emergency exists in South Carolina, authorizing FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts for all 46 counties and the Catawba Indian Nation. FEMA has a webpage for South Carolina Hurricane Irma (EM-3386). Willie G. Nunn was named the FCO for federal response operations in the affected area.

HUD

The Office of Housing Counseling is encouraging all housing counseling agencies impacted in Puerto Rico, Florida, and the surrounding region to review the Hurricane Resource Page for Housing Counselors and the Housing Counseling Disaster Recovery and Emergency Preparedness Toolkit located on HUD Exchange. It contains disaster recovery and emergency preparedness resources specifically for housing counseling programs. The toolkit provides immediate access to Disaster Recovery Flyers, the Housing Counseling Disaster Program Guide and other helpful resources.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

DHS issued a statement about immigration enforcement as Hurricane Irma approaches, claiming “DHS will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations in the affected area. . . . When it comes to rescuing people in the wake of Hurricane Irma, immigration status is not and will not be a factor.” In addition, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees from the Krome Detention Center, Monroe County Jail, Broward Transitional Center, and Glades Detention Center were temporarily transferred to various other detention facilities outside the projected path of the hurricane. 

DHS issued a similar statement prior to the arrival of Hurricane Harvey.

Local Perspectives

Affordable housing developers made preparations for their residents in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Shelters filled up extremely quickly as the storm approached.

Many people in Irma’s path have not fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew, which struck last year.