Letters to Congress: Letter in Support of The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act

View or download a PDF of the letter here.

January 25, 2022

The Honorable Chuck Schumer
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510 

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20510

To Majority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McConnell, and Minority Leader McCarthy: 

We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to quickly enact “The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act(S.2471)  introduced by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Todd Young (R-IN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bill  Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Representative Al Green (D-TX). This legislation will make the flow  of disaster recovery funds faster, more equitable, and more accountable to taxpayers. The bill was also included in the  THUD appropriation bill for FY 2022, recently released by the Senate Appropriations Committee. We ask that this  important, bipartisan legislation be included in any emergency disaster supplemental appropriation bill or other must pass legislation. 

Millions of disaster survivors across the country are facing catastrophic, life-threatening, extreme weather events,  including stronger hurricanes, extreme heat, unprecedented drought, and severe wildfires. In 2021, the U.S. recorded at  least 20 disasters that cost $1 billion or more in losses, totaling more than $145 billion in recovery costs, leaving  behind devastated households and communities across the country. This comes after multiple disasters in 2020,  including Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Southwestern Louisiana, a deadly derecho in Iowa, major flooding across the  Midwest, and earthquakes in Puerto Rico.  

If enacted, The “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” would permanently authorize the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD)’s Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program,  which provides flexible grants to help cities, counties, and states recover from Presidentially declared disasters and  rebuild affordable housing and other infrastructure after a disaster, especially in low-income areas

Insurance and short-term federal assistance are unable to cover the cost of a disaster for many low-income  homeowners, renters, and people experiencing homelessness. State and local governments often struggle to repair  infrastructure and facilitate economic development in low-income disaster-impacted communities. Many of the lowest income households – who are disproportionately affected by disasters but receive the least amount of assistance  afterward – face homelessness or displacement as shorter-term assistance programs end. As the only source for federal  long-term recovery funds, CDBG-DR can fill this gap in assistance and ensure every disaster survivor and their  communities are able to fully and equitably recover.

Although other federal agencies have standing resources to quickly serve communities when disasters strike, CDBG DR funds are only made available through special congressional approval. Due to the program’s lack of permanent  authorization, HUD must write a new set of regulations to guide state and local grantees each time it appropriates  funds. This ad hoc system can delay funding for over three years after a disaster occurs. As a result, recovery timelines  are lengthened, economies stagnate, and homelessness and out-migration from disaster-impacted areas increase. It is  not uncommon for many who will ultimately qualify for help from HUD to max out their credit cards and deplete any savings or college and retirement accounts they may have while they wait.  

The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act will help ensure that long-term disaster recovery funds are made quickly  available after disasters and that all disaster survivors and their communities can fully and equitably recover.  The 2019 version of the bill was unanimously passed out of the House Financial Services Committee and was  approved by the House of Representatives through a bipartisan vote. HUD, its Office of Inspector General, and the  Government Accountability Office under the past two administrations have agreed that permanently authorizing the  CDBG-DR program would vastly improve how the country’s most important long-term disaster recovery program  operates and better prevent waste fraud and abuse of these important funds.  

In addition to codifying the CDBG-DR program in statute, the bill contains critical reforms to help ensure a more  efficient and equitable disaster recovery and mitigate future risks by:  

  • Requiring that the use of federal recovery funds is balanced between infrastructure and housing;
  •  Ensuring that housing funds are spent proportionally between homeowners and renters; 
  • Requiring HUD to release information on disaster recovery to the public – disaggregated by income,  race, geography and all protected classes of individuals under federal civil rights and nondiscrimination  laws;
  • Requiring federal agencies to share all data to improve coordination of the disaster recovery process, as  well as increase oversight and data transparency; 
  • Authorizing the creation of a CDBG-DR Reserve Fund that can quickly disperse initial recovery  funding post-disaster without waiting for a new congressional action; 
  • Developing a formula to allocate assistance to the most impacted areas; 
  • Maintaining the current requirement that 70 percent of the funds benefit low- and moderate-income  people; 
  • Creating a capacity building and technical assistance set-aside for grantees; 
  • Ensuring that state action plans receive at least 14 days for public comment and requiring states to  engage with stakeholders in the impacted areas; 
  • Promoting disaster mitigation and resiliency by establishing an Office of Disaster Recovery and  Resilient Communities at HUD; 
  • Creating a significant set-aside for disaster mitigation activities; and 
  • Creating specific minimum construction standards for areas designated as hazard prone by HUD and  FEMA. 

Again, we urge you to support this important bipartisan legislation. By passing the “Reforming Disaster Recovery  Act,” Congress can provide meaningful relief to the millions of disaster survivors most in need. To cosponsor and for  more information about the bill, please contact Trey Reffett in the Office of Senator Brian Schatz (trey_reffett@schatz.senate.gov).