September 5: Update on Hurricane Harvey housing recovery

As Hurricane Harvey survivors return to find their homes are uninhabitable or still inaccessible, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner continues to stress that his highest priorities are “housing, housing, housing.”

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on an initial appropriation of $7.85 billion in disaster relief, as requested by the Trump administration. The package includes $7.4 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and $450 million for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program, designed to help individuals and small businesses begin rebuilding their homes.

The Senate is considering combining this initial relief with must-pass legislation to lift the debt ceiling. Such a bill would likely garner broad bipartisan support, despite opposition from the Freedom Caucus, and would be signed by the president.

“Our first priority is to make sure that the state gets money. It is critical. And to do that, we need to make sure we raise the debt limit. Without raising the debt limit, I’m not comfortable that we will get the money that we need this month to Texas to rebuild,” stated Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

BY THE NUMBERS (As of September 4):

 FEMA has received more than 573,000 registrations for assistance.

  • More than 180,000 survivors have been approved for more than $148 million in assistance from FEMA. Of that amount, $55 million is approved for housing assistance, including rental assistance, and nearly $93 million is approved for other needs assistance.
  • More than 53,600 survivors checked in to hotels and motels through FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program.
  • More than 73,000 National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims have been submitted, and more than $13.2 million advance payments have been issued to insured survivors.
  • More than 6,470 disaster loan applications, primarily for homes, have been received by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA has completed more than 2,600 property damage inspections.

LOCAL RESOURCES AND PERSPECTIVES

 Administration:

The original disaster declaration has been amended four times to expand the areas covered. To-date, 43 counties are covered for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) public assistance program. In addition, 39 counties are covered for FEMA individual assistance and debris removal. All 43 counties are eligible for Hazard Mitigation grants.

A fifth amendment to the original disaster declaration was issued on September 2, following a letter from the President altering the cost-sharing arrangements under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Instead of a 75% federal cost-share, the amendment authorizes a 90% federal cost-share for debris removal and direct federal assistance, and a 100% federal cost-share for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance. These cost-share provisions apply for 30 days from the start of the disaster declaration, reverting to 90% afterward.

 FEMA:

  • FEMA Administrator Brock Long has named Michael Byrne as Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator (FDRC). He will work under the direction of Kevin Hannes, Federal Coordinating Officer, and Nim Kidd, State Coordinating Officer/Governor’s Authorized Representative. Mr. Byrne will facilitate disaster recovery collaboration between federal, tribal, state, and local governments, as well as 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): Offices are now open in Houston, Columbus, La Grange, and Edna, Texas, to support 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): Staff are located in key locations, such as 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.
  • Accessibility: FEMA resources are available in other formats and languages reach people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, and people speak Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
  • Flood Insurance: FEMA is enhancing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims process and extending 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.
  • Infographics: FEMA has created shareable infographics to help communicate with survivors about ways to apply for assistance, what to expect after you apply for aid, and how to help.

HUD:

  • Evaluating Damage: HUD has deployed housing specialists to Texas and is deploying 100 additional personnel to evaluate damaged subsidized housing in the affected areas and they are developing comprehensive vacancy lists that will assist with relocating some shelter residents.
  • HUD’s Hurricane Harvey Latest News webpage has added a link to its Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, providing Post-Disaster Healthy Housing Resources.

Small Business Administration (SBA):

  •  The SBA has a Disaster Loan Assistance webpage that includes information for homeowners and renters.
  • A Fact Sheet for Homeowners and Renters indicates that renters and homeowners may borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace clothing, furniture, cars, or appliances damaged or destroyed in a disaster. Homeowners may apply for up to $200,000 to repair or replace their primary residence to its pre-disaster condition. For applicants unable to obtain credit elsewhere the interest rate will not exceed 4%. For those who can obtain credit elsewhere, the interest rate will not exceed 8%. The SBA offers loans with long-term repayments, in many cases up to 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

  •  The DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) 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.

 USDA:

  • USDA’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.
  • USDA 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 for other states because of Harvey.

Waivers

USDA 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 kids, given the challenges of preparing specific foods during this period. Steps already taken by USDA in Texas include:

  • Approving a request by Texas to waive SNAP regulations to allow program participants to buy hot foods and hot ready-to-eat foods with their benefits until September 30.
  • Supporting the state in its plans to shift the full SNAP issuance schedule for September to the first of the month so that families have access to their monthly benefits sooner.
  • Allowing all schools in declared disaster counties to waive the National School Lunch Program meal pattern and meal service time requirements. This will allow schools to serve meals that do not meet the menu planning or meal pattern requirements for schools and child care institutions and facilities in the affected areas through September 30.
  • Allowing all disaster affected schools to provide meals to all students at no charge and be reimbursed at the free reimbursement rate through September 30.
  • Providing the state the flexibility needed to allow seniors who participate in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in the service areas impacted by the hurricane to receive two food packages in September to make up for the loss of their August food benefit.
  • Approving Texas to designate schools not directly impacted by the Hurricane to serve as disaster organizations and shelters so that USDA foods can be used for congregate feeding, providing critical food assistance to those in need. USDA Foods include a variety of canned, fresh, frozen and dry products which include fruits, vegetables, meats, and whole grains.
  • Through September 24, WIC recipients will be allowed to purchase a wider variety of products, based on what is available on store shelves.

Details of waivers are here.

Short- and Long-term Plans

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) 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 USDA 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, and have qualifying disaster-related expenses such as loss of income, damage to property, and relocation expenses. Additionally, 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, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service 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. USDA is offering all SNAP state agencies nationwide 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. These efforts ensure that people who have traveled outside Texas to safer ground as a result of the disaster get the vital nutrition they need.

LABOR

EDUCATION:

  • Emergency Response Contact Center: K-12 and Higher Education stakeholders who are seeking informational resources should contact the Department of Education toll free at 1-844-348-4082 or by email at HarveyRelief@ed.gov.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS):

  • IRS now has a webpage devoted to Hurricane Harvey.
  • Indiana and Kentucky are permitting all owners of low-income housing tax credit (“LIHTC”) properties to provide temporary emergency housing to displaced individuals affected by Hurricane Harvey, in accordance with Revenue Procedures 2014-49 and 2014-50.

The latest information about the activities of other federal agencies are discussed at “Coordinated Response to Hurricane Harvey Continues.”

Media:

  • Washington Post, In disaster recovery, white homeowners and black renters are not always treated equally.
  • Reuters, Storm pits Houston’s homeless against newly displaced

For more information, please contact NLIHC Director of Public Policy Sarah Mickelson (smickelson@nlihc.org) or Senior Advisor Ed Gramlich (ed@nlihc.org).

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