Disaster Housing Recovery Update, Thursday, November 2, 2017

Congress

CDBG-DR Hearing. The House Committee on Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing regarding HUD’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program on November 1. The sole witness was Helen Albert, Acting Inspector General in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for HUD. She warned that excessive waivers of CDBG-DR funds, such as reducing the percentage of CDBG-DR funds reserved for low and moderate income households, destroy the intended purpose of the program. In response to a question from Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Albert said she does not think HUD currently has the resources to administer CDBG-DR.

Ms. Albert also acknowledged that CDBG-DR funds have been used inappropriately in the past, but offered several suggestions for improvement. For example, as explained on page 12 of her written testimony, instead of issuing a Federal Register notice for each disaster, HUD should be instructed by Congress to formally codify a single disaster recovery program to ensure a permanent formal framework for future disasters. (Currently, HUD uses more than 60 Federal Register notices pertaining to 113 active disaster recovery grants totaling more than $47 billion.) Another recommendation is to work with Congress and SBA to ensure that there is a clear and established order of funding priority for recipients. (SBA disaster loans are dispersed more quickly than financial assistance from a CDBG-DR grant. As a result, it is possible for some homeowners to receive an SBA disaster loan, making them ineligible for a CDBG-DR grant. As a result, homeowners who sought assistance early on are disadvantaged because SBA loans must be repaid while CDBG-DR grants do not have a repayment requirement.)

The written testimony summarized problems identified from the use of CDBG-DR following previous disasters ranging from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to Hurricane Sandy. For example, OIG has identified instances in which a significant portion of CDBG-DR was not provided to low and moderate income households and areas. OIG experience shows that the further out funds are spent, the greater the potential for waivers and action plan revisions that may not meet the originally intended goals of the program. For example in Harrison County, MS, more than $9.6 million was approved for a sewer facility based on an emergency requirement, but the facility did not meet the definition of an emergency requirement. Essentially, a sewer system was built for an undeveloped area with the idea “if we build it they will come.” Another example from Louisiana’s Road Home Elevation Program found that 79% of the homes inspected in an OIG sample had not been elevated. A follow-up review two years later found that the state did not have conclusive evidence that approximately $698.5 million in CDBG-DR funds provided to 24,000 homeowners had been used to elevate homes.

FEMA Administrator’s Written Testimony. FEMA Administrator Brock Long testified on November 2 before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Long’s written testimony was exactly the same as that provided to the Senate on October 31. Mr. Long wrote, “FEMA continues to work with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to ensure our programs transition into HUD long-term housing programs.” He also noted, “Working with the Texas General Land Office, FEMA has authorized new forms of housing assistance such as ‘Direct Lease’ and ‘Direct Repair,’ increased eligibility for the Multi-Family Repair & Lease program, and authorized the use of recreational vehicles as a housing solution for eligible applicants. As Texas recovers from the effects of Hurricane Harvey, it will be important for FEMA and the DHS Office of Inspector General to validate both the effectiveness and financial benefit of these new approaches.”

Another witness, Pete Lopez, EPA Regional Administrator for Region 2 stated, “The more disadvantaged the community, the slower and more painful the recovery.”

During the House hearing, Delegates Jennifer González-Colón (NPP/R-PR) and Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) stated that the current crises in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are due to disparities in funding that these jurisdictions receive, keeping the territorial governments from maintaining solid infrastructure. Ms. González-Colón called it “separate and unequal.” Both delegates asked for waivers from cost-sharing burdens.

GENERAL UPDATE

  • November 2 Summary of Known FEMA and SBA Deadlines. NLIHC has updated its summary of known application deadlines on the FEMA website, presented by program type, such as Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA), Individual Assistance (IA), SBA Low Interest Loans, etc. It is still unclear when the deadline to apply for IA is for Puerto Rico. NLIHC has inquired through a congressional office and will share an update when one is available.

 


CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES

FEMA

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 3,562 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $7,294,299 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $4,756,140 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $2,538,159 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.


HURRICANE MARIA

FEMA

 Puerto Rico

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 224,129 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $122,883,940 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $18,840,208 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $104,043,732 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
  • $411,852,200 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated, all for emergency work                  (Categories A-B)**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 375,264 referrals
  • 246,387 pending applications
  • 31 withdrawn
  • 13,296 ineligible
  • SBA Nonprofit Loan Deadline. Private nonprofits have until November 9 to apply for low-interest loans to cover physical damage caused by Hurricane Irma.
  • Changes to NFIP Policies. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is enhancing the flood claims process for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in an effort to rush recovery money for flood-damaged properties. FEMA is directing NFIP private insurance partners to:
  • Provide advance payments. After filing a flood insurance claim, the policyholder should discuss receiving advance payment from private insurers. The policyholder can receive an advance payment for up to $5,000 on a flood claim before a visit from an adjuster or any additional documentation. If the policyholder can provide photos of the damage and receipts from out-of-pocket expense, they may be eligible to receive up to $20,000. Any advance payments are deducted from the final claim settlement.
  • Waive use of Proof of Loss (POL) requirement. For this expedited process, the insurance company will schedule an inspection with an adjuster once a claim is filed. The adjuster will document damage and submit a report. A policyholder can seek additional payment if they disagree with the assessment or find additional damage, but a POL will be required for any supplement payment requests. Policyholders will have one year to submit a POL.
  • Extend grace period for payment of NFIP flood insurance policy renewal premiums. FEMA is extending the grace period of continual flood insurance coverage to 120 days for policies in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Policies eligible for the extension have an expiration date between August 7, 2017 and October 18, 2017. The extension also applies to policies with underpayment notices due between those dates. The NFIP cannot pay a claim after a policy has expired unless the insurance company receives payment in full on or before the last day of the grace period.

U.S. Virgin Islands

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 2,896 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $2,447,254 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $703,174 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $1,744,080 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
  • $16,547,917 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated, all for emergency work                 (Categories A-B)**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 8,788 referrals
  • 6,393 pending applications
  • 2 withdrawn
  • 513 ineligible

Changes to NFIP Policies. See entry under Puerto Rico.

Local Perspectives

Unemployment in Puerto Rico. At least 10,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits since the Department of Labor reopened its San Juan office on October 6. Destroyed buildings and lack of power has made returning to work impossible for many Puerto Ricans. Unemployment benefits can help, but at a maximum of $133 per week, families are still struggling without an income. Many smaller businesses will not ever be able to reopen.


HURRICANE IRMA

 FEMA

Florida

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 724,713 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $870,918,045 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $596,145,787 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $274,772,258 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 1,799,790 referrals
  • 697,467 pending applications
  • 23,922 withdrawn
  • 431,760 ineligible
  • TSA Extension. The Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program has extended the checkout date from November 5 to December 3. TSA pays for survivors to stay in hotels while they find other housing options.
  • SBA Nonprofit Loan Deadline. Private nonprofits have until November 20 to apply for low-interest loans to cover physical damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

Georgia

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 8,868 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $11,846,207 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $8,607,147 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $3,239,060 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 26,420 referrals
  • 12,766 pending applications
  • 437 withdrawn
  • 5,727 ineligible

Puerto Rico

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 783 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $1,819,487 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $953,003 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $866,484 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 2,262 referrals
  • 1,263 pending applications
  • 35 withdrawn
  • 446 ineligible

U.S. Virgin Islands

 By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 3,624 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $5,189,245 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $3,008,263 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $2,180,982 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
  • $25,056,945 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated, all for emergency work                   (Categories A-B)**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 8,351 referrals
  • 5,308 pending applications
  • 22 withdrawn
  • 762 ineligible

USDA

Virgin Islands Eligible for D-SNAP. Households in the U.S. Virgin Islands recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria may be eligible for assistance through the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). Household not normally eligible for SNAP may qualify for D-SNAP and receive two months of benefits. Current SNAP participants will receive disaster supplements to bring their October and November benefits up to the maximum allotment.


HURRICANE HARVEY

FEMA

Texas

By the Numbers: (as of 11/2)

  • 342,717 Individual Assistance (IA) applications approved*
  • $1,326,498,770 Individual & Household Program (IHP) approved*
  • $1,033,640,031 Housing Assistance (HA) approved*
  • $292,858,739 Other Needs Assistance (ONA) approved*
  • $474,860,721 Total Public Assistance Grants (PA) obligated**
  • $411,922,596 Emergency Work (Categories A-B) obligated**

*Assistance dollars approved but not necessarily disbursed.

**Funds made available to the state via electronic transfer following FEMA’s final review and approval of Public Assistance projects.

Individual Assistance Numbers: (as of 10/16)

  • 718,566 referrals
  • 140,080 pending applications
  • 37,192 withdrawn
  • 231,319 ineligible

Local Perspectives

Request for Federal Infrastructure Funding. The Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas is asking Congress for more than $61 billion in additional federal assistance for public infrastructures such as roads, bridges, schools, and other public facilities. Also included are projects designed to mitigate the impact of future storms by dealing directly with protecting coastal infrastructure, homes, businesses, critical facilities, and the petrochemical complex. The request would be above current FEMA expenditures and does not include funding for temporary or permanent housing needs, which are overseen by the General Land Office (with its Texas Rebuilds programs). Sixty percent of the money would be used for flood control, 33% to buy out and elevate houses, and the rest for hazard mitigation, water utilities, roads, and bridges. The Commissioner of Rebuild Texas, John Sharp, describes the request as a current “snapshot” based on reports from city and county officials.

 The 301-page report indicates that of the $61 billion, $15.33 billion would be CDBG-DR, $6.3 billion FEMA, $36.6 billion Army Corps of Engineers, and the balance from five other federal sources along with $502 million in various state educational agencies. The bulk of the report is broken down by source of funds county-by-county. For example the CDBG-DR uses are on pages 55 through 77; however, all of the Army Corps of Engineers projects indicate that CDBG-DR might also be a source of funding. Many of the CDBG-DR projects, amounting to $829 million would entail homeowner buyouts, removing properties from a floodplain, and enabling homeowners to buy in locations outside of flood zones. In addition, $9 billion would assist in the short-term and long-term recovery of single-family and multifamily housing stock in Houston damaged by Hurricane Harvey. An additional $4.5 billion would acquire/demolish, relocate, elevate homes, and mitigate reconstruction for 15,000 homes in Houston. $502 million would be for various flood mitigation projects, and $500,000 would restore electrical public utility distribution, transmission, and generation infrastructure.

 Commission to Rebuild Texas Update 7. A media release indicates that as of October 27, 51,416 individuals were taking advantage of FEMA’s TSA assistance, and as of October 26 only 29 people remained in shelters, 882,935 individual assistance applications had been received, and FEMA had completed 519,007 inspections.

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