Disaster recovery at this moment does not work for all who need it. Structural issues like drainage or organizational issues such as funds for natural disasters allocated prior to events are rarely designed with equity in mind. To make matters worse, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development have not historically been on the same page. Rather than perceptively planning ahead and prioritizing those who are in most need of aid, disaster recovery can feel as if it’s distributed in a free-for-all.
To address this problem, the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2019 aims to correct the missteps of the past by making these essential funds available as soon as they are needed and prioritizing the most vulnerable survivors and communities in mind. Already introduced and passed out of the House Financial Services Committee with the help of Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), this bipartisan effort has a companion bill introduced in the Senate by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Todd Young (R-IN).
Essentially, the bill is broken down in four parts.
1) By targeting resources to those with the greatest need, you can ensure that those who would have the toughest time getting back on their feet following a disaster can do so quickly and with dignity. The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act plans to do this by:
- Require that federal disaster recovery dollars are equitably distributed, balancing the needs of homeowners, renters, and people experiencing homelessness
- Require that the use of federal recovery funds is balanced between rebuilding infrastructure and housing
- Require that federal recovery dollars help replace already scarce affordable housing for low-income residents by prioritizing the one-for-one replacement of damaged or destroyed public or federally subsidized rental housing
- Maintain the current requirement that 70 percent of the federal recovery funds benefit low- and moderate-income people and sets clearer direction to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on adjusting this requirement
- Provide survivors with a clear appeal process to ensure that all households receive the full amount of assistance for which they are eligible
- Require that HUD allocate federal disaster assistance money within 60 days after Congress approves Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Recovery
- Require opportunities for public input on plans for the use of federal disaster assistance money
2) This direct help is chief among the list of priorities for this bill, but it’s also important to take what has happened to examine, review, and learn from it. This is why prioritizing data transparency and oversight is another major part of this bill. In this regard, the bill will:
- Require federal agencies to share all data to help coordinate disaster recovery
- Require HUD to make publicly available all data collected and analyzed during the course of the disaster recovery, including data on damage caused by the disaster, how any federal assistance was spent
and information on the disasters effect on education, transportation capabilities, housing needs, and displacement
- Require states receiving federal recovery dollars to publish contracts and agreements with third parties to carry out disaster recovery efforts
- Authorize the release of data to academic institutions to conduct research on the equitable distribution of recovery funds, adherence to civil rights protections, and other disaster recovery-related topics
- Require that the HUD Inspector General to help ensure that disaster recovery programs serve all eligible households, in addition to preventing waste, fraud and abuse
- Require states to include detailed plans outlining how it will use CDBG-DR funds and how these dollars will address relief, resiliency, long-term recovery, restoration of manufactured housing in the most impacted areas.
3) In addition to providing help to those who need it, the bill would reinforce and laws that need to be made stronger. By requiring states to create a plan to ensure compliance with federal fair housing obligations and requiring HUD to release information regarding disaster recovery efforts, disaggregated by race, geography and all protected classes of individuals under federal civil rights and nondiscrimination laws, as well as existing disaster assistance laws.
4) Finally, we cannot ignore that there must be more responsibility when it comes to rebuilding, so that the next disaster doesn’t leave residents in a worse situation they were in prior. That’s why the last goal encourages mitigation and resiliency. These goals include:
- Requiring rebuilt or substantially repaired structures located in flood areas to meet mitigation standards; and
- Requiring any infrastructure repaired or constructed with federal recovery dollars to have the minimum standard of protection from floods and storm waters.
Along with these strong guidelines, the Senate bill adds additional measures such as creating an Office of Disaster Recovery and Resilient Communities at HUD to coordinate the agency’s disaster response, requiring FEMA, HUD, and SBA to develop a common application, and allowing HUD to provide housing assistance to people experiencing homelessness and at risk of homelessness who are not receiving housing assistance from FEMA.
If this bill were to pass, low-income disaster victims would receive the high standard of support that they have needed for far too long. And with all of these requirements fielding bipartisan backing, there is a united force towards ensuring all can quickly and wisely rebuild, not just the privileged few.