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senate Bill S. 1605

Should More Survivors of Major Natural Disasters Receive Federal Housing Assistance?

Argument in favor

FEMA’s refusal to enact a Disaster Housing Assistance Program after Hurricane Maria wrought widespread destruction in Puerto Rico is disgraceful. The agency should enact DHAP as soon as possible to enable families in Puerto Rico and other areas affected by natural disasters to access housing assistance. Additionally, the documentation requirements to prove eligibility for housing assistance after a natural disaster should be loosened to allow more types of documentation.

jimK's Opinion
···
11/17/2019
Victims of natural disasters will need increasing support from climate change induced weather disasters and help to secure funds such as underwritten low rate loans to recover and rebuild. For people living in geographical areas repeatedly at risk, such as areas subject to increased intensity and damage from recurring wildfires and coastal areas at risk due to increasing storm intensity and sea level rise- these needs will continue to escalate. Government underwritten funds cannot responsibly be allocated for rebuilding in areas subject to repeated risks- they must be used to support relocation and rebuilding in areas which are not. We need to manage these resources with due compassion and intelligence - since the needs will continue to grow and access to government aid cannot be unlimited.
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KansasTamale's Opinion
···
11/17/2019
Definitely YES, but with a caveat. Those receiving help MUST rebuild in another location ( unless it’s like a tornado which can’t be predicted) so that the government does not have to spend disaster monies over & over again. In fact those losing housing in an area where disaster happens over & over could be bought out by the government like it does when a highway or federal building is going to be built.
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Robert's Opinion
···
11/17/2019
Considering that the Government's lack of action to minimize Natural disasters, a Disaster Housing Assistance Program is called for.
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Argument opposed

FEMA hasn’t enacted the Disaster Housing Assistance Program in response to Hurricane Maria because it has a better program, the Direct Lease program, which is more efficient and cost-effective than DHAP. Additionally, while the documentation requirements to prove eligibility for housing assistance after a natural disaster may be overly strict, this bill relaxes them too much and might empower squatters & cheats to access federal funds they’re not entitled to.

samiam6's Opinion
···
11/17/2019
Why do people think the government is an insurance company?
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larubia's Opinion
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11/17/2019
I want to say yes, however, I find it hard to wrap my head around housing assistance for those who will rebuild on the same land, given by a government that refuses to acknowledge global warming even exists. Fix the latter conditions, rejoin the Paris Accord and, yes to the increased housing assistance. Until then, no!
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Doug's Opinion
···
11/17/2019
No. Instead we should restrict jurisdictions allowing people and developers to build in areas that have known histories of high frequency’s of natural disasters. If these activities are allowed, then full disclosure to the purchaser should be required and then they can assume the risk and proceed or not. It’s unfair for me to be responsible and not live in hurricane alley or the middle of a forest fire waiting to happen, yet have to pay for those who do.
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What is Senate Bill S. 1605?

This bill — the Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act of 2019 — would allow more survivors of major natural disasters to receive housing assistance. To do this, it would expand the types of evidence that can be used to establish residency in a dwelling after natural disasters, allow disaster assistance to be used to fund activities to establish property ownership, require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to work with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to immediately set up the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) for survivors of Hurricane Maria, and require FEMA and HUD to consult about DHAP activation in the event of any future presidential disaster declarations. 

Specifically, this bill would clarify and expand the types of housing that are eligible for disaster housing assistance. It would make funds under the Stafford Act available to be used by individuals or households occupying an otherwise unused property, rented household, boarding-house, bunkhouse, maintenance-of-way car, mobile home, manufactured home, or travel trailer, or who are homeless. It would also allow Stafford Act disaster relief funding to be used for land surveys, land titles, and any other taxes or fees associated with the transfer of property.

This bill would also expand the forms of evidence that can be accepted as proof of residence for the purpose of establishing eligibility for disaster assistance (currently, only a deed or title of ownership of a property suffices). It would allow for the use of any of the following: 

  • A utility bill;
  • Merchant’s statement (e.g., credit card bill); 
  • Pay stub from an employer; 
  • Driver’s license or state-issued identification card;
  • Mortgage payment booklet or other mortgage documents; 
  • Property title of mobile home;
  • Real estate property tax receipts; 
  • School registration containing address of self, child, or children;
  • A will and testament with the name and address of the individual;
  • Medical records;
  • Charitable donation receipts; or 
  • Any other documentation, certification, identification or proof of occupancy or ownership that can reasonably link the individual requesting assistance to damaged property. 

This bill would require the FEMA administrator to create and distribute a form statement that applicants may use to self-certify for assistance. It also specifies that these statements are exempt from public notice and comment periods, and don’t need to be notarized.

This bill also specifies that applicants for assistance under the Stafford Act in 2017 or 2018 may have 180 days to reopen or appeal a determination on their application(s) for assistance under the new terms created by this bill’s enactment. 

Finally, this bill would require FEMA to enter into an interagency agreement with HUD to ensure the implementation of the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) within 60 days after this bill’s enactment. Going forward, FEMA and HUD would be required to engage in consultations regarding DHAP’s implementation whenever the president declares a major disaster. 

Impact

Natural disasters; housing for those affected by natural disasters; FEMA; HUD; DHAP; Stafford Act; federal housing assistance for those affected by natural disasters; forms of evidence that can be accepted as proof of residence for the purpose of establishing eligibility for disaster assistance; and the FEMA administrator.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 1605

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to allow survivors of major natural disaster to receive housing assistance:

"Catastrophic natural disasters from Puerto Rico to California have devastated families and left them searching for safe, stable and affordable housing. The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act would push the Federal government to step up for these families and make it easier for them to access the help they are entitled to and desperately need."

When she introduced this bill in the 115th Congress after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) refused to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to provide stable housing for survivors of major hurricanes, Sen. Warren said

"The federal government is failing the people of Puerto Rico who are still recovering from the devastating hurricanes — we owe our fellow U.S. citizens much better. When disaster strikes, people who are displaced deserve safe, stable housing and a chance to get back on their feet. If FEMA won't do its job, Congress should step up and act to help the thousands of evacuees who are now living in Massachusetts and across the country."   

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), who has sponsored the House version of this legislation in both the 115th and 116th Congresses, says

“What we are witnessing with the delay to rebuild Puerto Rico is unheard of and never would have happened in any other community. The treatment of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico by the Trump administration is a slap in the face and blatant disregard of the lives of thousands of individuals and families in need. The Trump administration's inability to provide adequate disaster relief, coupled with FEMA's crippling delay and lack of coordination with housing authorities to issue disaster recovery funding is appalling and outright embarrassing. I am proud to join Senator Warren and our bicameral colleagues to introduce the Housing Survivors of Majors Disasters Act of 2019 to say enough is enough and the people of Puerto Rico deserve better."

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has supported this legislation in both the 115th and 116th Congresses. Its president and CEO, Diane Yentel, says

“On behalf of the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, I applaud Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Adriano Espaillat for introducing legislation to enact critically-needed reforms to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ensure that the lowest-income survivors — including seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, people experiencing homelessness, and other individuals - receive the housing assistance they need to rebuild their lives. Congress should immediately enact this legislation and hold FEMA accountable for its continued failure to address the housing needs of the most vulnerable survivors, which has forced thousands of families to return to uninhabitable homes, sleep in cars or shelters, double or triple up with other low-income families, or pay far too much of their incomes on rent, putting them at higher risk of evictions and, in worst cases, homelessness."

In a June 2018 fact sheet, FEMA said that it’s a myth that DHAP is needed to address the housing needs of Puerto Rico survivors. It argues that DHAP isn’t necessary to house displaced disaster survivors, and claims that DHAP has been cited by the Office of Inspector General as “inefficient and not cost effective.” FEMA stated that the agency’s Direct Lease program is being implemented in Puerto Rico to provide the same housing option to disaster survivors as they’d receive under DHAP in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. 

Furthermore, FEMA claimed that its Direct Lease Assistance program eliminates DHAP’s bureaucratic challenges by: 

  • Eliminating the burden on survivors to find their own rental units;
  • Providing rent directly to property owners at no cost to survivors;
  • Reducing the number of federal agencies involved; and
  • Decreasing overall administrative costs for the agency.

This legislation has 12 Senate cosponsors, including 11 Democrats and one Independent, in the 116th Congress. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), has three bipartisan House cosponsors, including two Democrats and one Republican. As of September 2, 2019, neither bill had received a committee vote.

In the 115th Congress, this legislation was called the Housing Victims of Major Disaster Act of 2018. It had 11 Senate cosponsors, including 10 Democrats and one Independent, and didn’t receive a committee vote. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Espaillat, had 26 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 25 Democrats and one Republican, and also didn’t receive a committee vote

This legislation is supported by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the Hispanic Federation, and UnidosUS in the current session of Congress. In the 115th Congress, it was endorsed by the Hispanic Federation, Oxfam, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition and the American Federation of Teachers.


Of NoteThis legislation was introduced after a string of natural disasters that created housing crises, including Hurricanes Maria and Irma, Hurricane Florence, the flooding of the Missouri River Basin and the wildfires in California. After Hurricane Maria, many survivors were denied FEMA aid because the documentation required to prove ownership of a damaged property had been lost in the storm or was never issued in the first place.

The Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) is a partnership between FEMA and HUD that provides subsidies to help survivors pay rent, put down a security deposit, or pay for utilities. It was implemented after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. DHAP has been enacted after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, and Sandy.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / CHUYN)

AKA

Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act of 2019

Official Title

A bill to make available necessary disaster assistance for families affected by major disasters, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
    IntroducedMay 22nd, 2019
    Victims of natural disasters will need increasing support from climate change induced weather disasters and help to secure funds such as underwritten low rate loans to recover and rebuild. For people living in geographical areas repeatedly at risk, such as areas subject to increased intensity and damage from recurring wildfires and coastal areas at risk due to increasing storm intensity and sea level rise- these needs will continue to escalate. Government underwritten funds cannot responsibly be allocated for rebuilding in areas subject to repeated risks- they must be used to support relocation and rebuilding in areas which are not. We need to manage these resources with due compassion and intelligence - since the needs will continue to grow and access to government aid cannot be unlimited.
    Like (96)
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    Why do people think the government is an insurance company?
    Like (46)
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    Definitely YES, but with a caveat. Those receiving help MUST rebuild in another location ( unless it’s like a tornado which can’t be predicted) so that the government does not have to spend disaster monies over & over again. In fact those losing housing in an area where disaster happens over & over could be bought out by the government like it does when a highway or federal building is going to be built.
    Like (47)
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    Considering that the Government's lack of action to minimize Natural disasters, a Disaster Housing Assistance Program is called for.
    Like (42)
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    I want to say yes, however, I find it hard to wrap my head around housing assistance for those who will rebuild on the same land, given by a government that refuses to acknowledge global warming even exists. Fix the latter conditions, rejoin the Paris Accord and, yes to the increased housing assistance. Until then, no!
    Like (26)
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    Yes, but not in areas deemed at risk for repeat disasters.
    Like (21)
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    Yes! People need to be helped after natural disasters.
    Like (20)
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    The republicans are too busy with giveaways to businesses. Why not stimulate the economy and help out those who have been victims of tragedies also. This bill could definitely use some tweaking but the finished legislation could be a real boost for local economies hurt by these disasters.
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    No. Instead we should restrict jurisdictions allowing people and developers to build in areas that have known histories of high frequency’s of natural disasters. If these activities are allowed, then full disclosure to the purchaser should be required and then they can assume the risk and proceed or not. It’s unfair for me to be responsible and not live in hurricane alley or the middle of a forest fire waiting to happen, yet have to pay for those who do.
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    The argument that direct lease is a better program is patently false and that is observable in the utter failure after Maria. PUERTO RICO IS AMERICA. PUERTO RICANS ARE US CITIZENS. The USA has responsibility over a number of unique island peoples, cultures, and ecosystems. We are OBLIGATED to protect and preserve them.
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    Hell Yes! This is why We Pay Taxes! If America isn't taking care of her Citizens anymore why should we pay anything? Get your money from those you in Washington take care of. You know, your Quid Pro Quo, you have them pay no taxes and then they contribute to your Campaigns Hmmmmm Republicans???? You are the ones who have been giving all the tax breaks to Corporations who are raking in BILLIONS same with Companies and the RICH PEOPLE!
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    As long as they agree to relocate to an area where flooding will not occur, I agree. I’m tired of paying for them to rebuild, sometimes, every two years. I can see the first time it happens. After that, get insurance or take the risk yourselves. I would love to live near the water. I choose not to because I don’t want to assume that risk. Many of you won’t admit to fixing climate change, so deal with the consequences. We cannot afford to literally bail you out after every storm! That’s the REALITY of the situation. You contribute to climate change. You can still fix it. Tell your Representatives to step up before it’s too late! OR YOU PAY THE PRICE!
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    Protect Americans!
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    Not everyone has the money to rebuild or buy something new. Even though my husband and I both work we fall into that class of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. He has a Master’s and I a doctorate. Federal aid would be the only way could begin to start over
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    The loan must be paid back. No gifts.
    Like (9)
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    Our government is currently broke, in debt, and continuing to spend our children's monetary futures into oblivion.
    Like (7)
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    Only if building is not in the same area such as barrier islands and pine forests, areas prone to landslides and flooding. Better still, invest in stopping global warming which is the etiology of the increased natural disasters.
    Like (6)
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    Yes, of course we should assist those affected by natural disasters, yet with the caveat that if the disaster occurs in a disaster prone area, the first course of assistance should entail relocation. I’m talking about real and timely aid, not just throwing paper towels. It’s time we step back up to our responsibilities, pay attention to science and rejoin the Paris Accord. Prior to President Trump’s administration, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Lyndsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and so many more would still be screaming about overspending on anything but military, war and special projects in their own districts and states to placate their voters. It’s ironic how things also change when some of the biggest conservative congressional spending hawks, Mick Mulvaney, Tom Price, and so many more now disgraced self-serving jerks change when they move into the executive branch. (The Trump administration will end, either by impeachment, by the 2020 election, or by the end of a 2nd term in 2024, yet these same corrupt individuals will be running again and be fully re-enabled in their districts and states.) IF YOU’RE UNHAPPY BECAUSE YOUR MONEY IS NOT BEING SPENT ON THE THINGS THAT REALLY MATTER TO YOU AND TO YOUR FAMILY, THEN VOTE AND CHANGE WHO REPRESENTS YOUR DISTRICT AND YOUR STATE.
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    Natural disasters should be covered by Federal money; this being dependent on the financial means of the victim.
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    As long as they don’t rebuild in a disaster prone areas
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