House Passes The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019 (H.R. 3702)
On November 18th, the House of Representatives passed the "Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019", H.R. 3702, with strong bi-partisan support by a vote of 290-118. The bill, introduced by Representatives Al Green (D-TX-9) and Ann Wagner (R-MO-2), which passed out of the House Financial Services Committee this summer with unanimous support, would strengthen and permanently authorize HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program.
Background on CDBG-DR Program
As a national nonprofit supporting disaster recovery, we have seen firsthand that the CDBG-DR program is the last line of defense for survivors in affected areas whose needs have not been met by FEMA or other government programs. Designed to cover the gaps left when all other sources have fallen short, CDBG-DR pays for repairs and rebuilding of homes and apartment buildings. CDBG-DR dollars also help to reopen hospitals, schools, and community centers and cover uninsured losses for small businesses, allowing them to retool to meet the realities of a disaster-impacted economy.
Despite its scale, the disaster part of CDBG is not a standing program. After each disaster supplemental appropriation, HUD has to issue a Federal Register Notice that sets the requirements and waivers for that particular allocation. Grantees need to then study the rules, make policy choices, and build up their own disaster programs. From Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to Hurricane Michael in 2018, HUD has published over 60 Federal Register Notices that grantees must consult when developing their action plans and implementing their rebuilding programs. This ad hoc system results in different requirements and waivers for different grantees, confusion and frustration among grantees and delays of as much as 9-12 months from when the disaster hits to when CDBG-DR funds start reaching communities on the ground.
Impact of Delays
Unfortunately, throughout the country today there are numerous communities that are dealing with the ramifications of these delays. Earlier this month was the one-year anniversary of the Camp Fire which ignited and ripped through the town of Paradise, California, burning over 240 square miles of Northern California forest and destroying more than 19,000 homes and businesses. Many of the families that were displaced are still fighting to rebuild their homes and community, but CDBG-DR funds that were appropriated by Congress have yet to be made available for rebuilding from the Camp Fire.
Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017, has yet to receive any of the CDBG funds originally appropriated by Congress for mitigation purposes in February of 2018 and is just beginning its housing recovery programs.
The City of Houston has felt the impact of these delays as well. In September, Tropical Storm Imelda dumped 40 inches of rain on Houston and southeast Texas, causing deadly flooding and millions of dollars in damage to infrastructure. Many of the hardest-hit communities were still recovering from 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. Some of the damage could have be reduced as many Houston residents, after Harvey, responded to a survey saying they wanted their homes to be bought out from areas that repeatedly flood. By the time funds finally became available 18 months after the storm, however, most had rebuilt or repaired their homes in vulnerable areas.
Key Provisions of "The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019"
H.R. 3702 would improve outcomes for families across the country by providing relief to disaster-stricken communities in a more efficient, equitable, and fair way. The bill includes important measures to ensure scarce resources are targeted to families and communities with the greatest needs, protect civil rights and fair housing regulation, and encourage mitigation and resiliency. The bill would also make data available to the public about the impact of the disaster and how resources are spent, which would help promote transparency, allow effective public participation in the development of state recovery plans, and help state and local governments, philanthropic organizations, and researchers better identify critical gaps in services.
Enterprise applauds House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Waters (D-CA-43) and Ranking Member McHenry (R-NC-10), as well as Reps. Green and Wagner for their persistence and bipartisan approach that led to yesterday’s significant achievement.
Now that the House has passed this legislation, Enterprise and our advocacy partners will turn our attention to Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Todd Young’s (R-IN) companion legislation. Their bill, S. 2301, has been assigned to the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Enterprise strongly supports this legislation and will continue to advocate and build support for its passage. We encourage our partners to reach out to their senators and urge them to support S. 2301 to make our nation’s disaster recovery framework more efficient, consistent, and fair.