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Schatz, Collins, Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation To Reform Disaster Recovery

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) today reintroduced legislation to help communities recover from major disasters. The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act would strengthen the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) disaster recovery program for states, local governments, and tribes.

“Right now, communities in crisis are forced to wait for Congress to pass a disaster funding bill before HUD can help. This bill changes the law so they no longer have to wait. As soon as a disaster strikes, communities can begin the process of recovery,” said Senator Schatz, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

“With natural disasters increasing in frequency and intensity, it is critical that states have the necessary resources to respond in order to protect public safety, property, and our economy,” said Senator Collins, the Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Our bipartisan legislation would allow communities to immediately focus on helping families and local businesses recover instead of navigating the federal bureaucracy in the wake of a natural disaster.”

“When disaster strikes, governments at every level should be empowered to respond as quickly as possible so that communities can get the resources they need to keep families safe and rebuild,” said Senator Murray, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This bipartisan legislation makes badly-needed adjustments to CDBG-DR to improve coordination and help communities recover faster from major disasters--which are becoming more frequent and severe each year.”

“Mississippians certainly understand the long haul required to recover from disasters, which is something we’re working to do now after the March tornadoes.  We also know that federal assistance can be improved, which is what we would be doing by authorizing and funding the CDBG Disaster Recovery Program,” said Senator Hyde-Smith. 

“Families in Oregon and nationwide dealing with the challenges of increased wildfires, droughts and other natural disasters cannot afford to jump through bureaucratic hurdles while trying to recover,” said Senator Wyden. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce legislation that would cut unnecessary red tape and create a disaster recovery fund that would provide timely federal help to communities struck by natural disasters without waiting for Congress to act. Time is of the essence and I will work tirelessly to get this bill over the finish line.”

“Mississippians understand that rapid disaster response helps communities bounce back from natural disaster more quickly,” said Senator Wicker. “This legislation would expedite aid distribution at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, ensuring families can rebuild as soon as possible after disaster strikes.”

“When disaster strikes, help can’t come soon enough to communities in need. This bipartisan bill will put reforms in place to help plan ahead while also bringing greater reliability and efficiency to our federal disaster response operations so relief resources can be effectively dispatched to distressed communities for their recovery,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Red tape and delays are the last things you want to run into when recovering from disaster,” said Senator Cassidy. “This legislation streamlines the process to get communities and families the resources they need, as soon as possible, to get back on their feet.”

“In times of crisis, relief cannot wait. As the number and severity of natural disasters increase because of climate change, it's vital that communities have access to housing assistance and support when they need it—not months or years down the line,” said Senator Luján. “I’m pleased to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan piece of legislation that will strengthen community disaster relief programs to quickly deliver emergency funds to communities in crisis. As our state recovers from its own natural disasters, this legislation will make federal emergency funds more responsive to New Mexicans.”

“Too many North Carolinians are still waiting for assistance after losing their homes because of Hurricanes Matthew and Florence and it’s clear reforms at the federal level and stronger leadership at the state level are needed to cut through the red tape and stop the delays,” said Senator Tillis. “I’m proud to support this bipartisan legislation to streamline the grant process to get long-term federal assistance sooner to the families and small businesses that need to be made whole again.”

“With the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, it is imperative that we streamline the process for disaster funding in order to provide more timely assistance to those in need,” said Senator Booker. “We must ensure that communities affected by major disasters have the resources they need to plan and recover effectively. By reforming HUD's disaster recovery grants and establishing an office dedicated to resilient communities, we can empower local governments, states, and tribes to take swift action and support their residents during times of crisis.”

“Our legislation would streamline, reform, and inject greater fiscal responsibility into the broken CDBG Disaster Recovery Program,” said Senator Todd Young. “This is a response to reports from the Government Accountability Office and HUD’s Office of Inspector General recommending Congress permanently codify the program to avoid funding lags and rid duplicative requirements in the wake of a disaster.”

“Californians know all too well the need for reliable and consistent federal disaster response,” said Senator Padilla. “That’s why I’m supporting The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act––to establish a permanent and predictable pathway for Congress to provide communities with the resources they need to rebuild.”

The bill addresses long-standing recommendations from the HUD Office of the Inspector General and Government Accountability Office to establish a permanent and predictable funding process. The bill accelerates assistance to disaster-impacted communities by:

  • Creating a disaster recovery fund to allow HUD to predictably assist communities;
  • Authorizing HUD to issue regulations to codify program requirements and reduce unnecessary red tape, delays, and unpredictability that stems from the current process;
  • Supporting resilience as a part of – rather than separate from – disaster recovery;
  • Authorizing “quick release” funds to support grantee capacity right after an event;
  • Improving federal coordination by establishing an office at HUD devoted to disaster recovery and resilience; and
  • Reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and interagency requirement conflicts.

“The Council of State Community Development Agencies (COSCDA) applauds reintroduction of the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act. As communities continue to experience major natural disasters, federal help is essential for rebuilding efforts and to mitigate against future events. The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program (CDBG-DR) facilitates this critical assistance for long-term recovery,” said Dianne Taylor, Executive Director of COSCDA. “While CDBG-DR provides meaningful investments towards housing, infrastructure and related needs, the program experiences significant challenges including timeliness in assisting disaster victims. Program codification and related reforms are essential for improved performance and outcomes. The Reforming Disaster Recovery Act would streamline regulations, strengthen capacity and technical assistance, and enhance data availability among other key priorities. COSCDA supports these updates to accommodate more expedient and effective resources to populations in need.”

“Our nation’s disaster housing recovery system is fundamentally broken and in need of major reform. After each disaster, the lowest-income and most marginalized people and communities are left behind, putting households at increased risk of displacement and, in worst cases, homelessness and placing already disinvested communities at greater risk harm due to future disasters,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “NLIHC and its Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition of nearly 900 local, state, and national organizations urge Congress to quickly enact the bipartisan Reforming Disaster Recovery Act as an important step towards ensuring critical federal recovery resources can efficiently and quickly reach those with the greatest, clearest needs.”

“BPC Action commends Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Todd Young (R-IN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Alex Padilla (D-CA) for their leadership in reintroducing the bipartisan Reforming Disaster Recovery Act. This much needed legislation would permanently authorize HUD’s CDBG-DR program, helping HUD and disaster-impacted communities address unmet recovery needs more quickly and impactfully. This bill aligns with the goals of BPC’s task force on disaster response reform, formed in 2020, and advances a key priority of our Adaptation Working Group. With seven catastrophic disasters expected to cost over $1 billion and 30 FEMA major disaster declarations issued in just the first five months of 2023, Congress should not miss the opportunity to put such a critical source of disaster assistance on more permanent footing. BPC Action looks forward to working with the 118th Congress to enact this bill,” said Michele Stockwell, Executive Director of BPC Action.

The Schatz-Collins bill is supported by more than 40 organizations including BPC Action, Council of State Community Development Agencies, Enterprise Community Partners, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, National Community Development Association, and National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The full text of the bill is available here.