During a year in which Americans seem more divided than ever, the devastation of three consecutive “storm of the century” hurricanes has finally pushed Congress and the Trump Administration to take timely and bipartisan action. On September 8, President Trump signed into law a $15.25 billion disaster relief bill in response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The bill combines disaster relief with several other must-pass bills to lift the debt ceiling, extend the National Flood Insurance program, and keep the government open through December 8 with a Continuing Resolution. Of the $15.25 billion in disaster relief funding, $7.4 billion is for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, $450 million is for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) disaster loan program and an additional $7.4 billion in CDBG Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR) funds is for communities impacted by disasters in 2017.
The bill provides HUD Secretary Ben Carson with broad discretion to allocate these resources directly to state and local governments. A complete list of the affected disaster areas can be found at www.fema.gov. This FEMA fact sheet reminds renters that they could be eligible for disaster recovery assistance from FEMA and the Small Business Administration.
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition has taken a leadership role in bringing together communities impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as national, state, and local housing organizations. The Coalition is providing nearly daily updates on its website on hurricane damage and relief efforts.
Letters to Congress
Disadvantaged people and their communities are often hit the hardest by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards. Many of these vulnerable neighborhoods and people – including low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children –are never able to recover fully, making them even more vulnerable when the next disaster strikes. For that reason, a broad coalition of organizations has drafted letters to Congress, FEMA, and HUD outlining specific policy recommendations that will help ensure the recovery process is fair. To support this effort, please sign your organization onto the national letters to Congress, FEMA, and HUD. The deadline to sign on is Wednesday, September 27.
Community Reinvestment Efforts
While federal agencies assess the damage from recent hurricanes and provide emergency assistance, both the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders have expressed support for quick passage of additional assistance in response to Irma and Maria, but the timeline for this action remains unclear. The House and Senate tax writing committees are also considering options for a disaster tax relief package, including possible special modifications to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.
Federal regulators also have stepped up to the plate to help meet the financial services needs of communities impacted by the hurricanes. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and state bank regulators have advised lenders to work constructively with borrowers in communities affected by hurricanes. Financial regulators also have reminded financial institutions that they may receive CRA consideration for community development loans, investments, or services that revitalize or stabilize federally designated disaster areas in their assessment areas or in the states or regions that include their assessment areas. For additional information, institutions should review the Interagency Questions and Answers Regarding Community Reinvestment at https://www.ffiec.gov/cra/qnadoc.htm.
After a year of division and strife, it is heartening to see Americans of all political parties in the public, nonprofit, and private sector come together to help those in need. It’s too bad that it took devastating, consecutive natural disasters to spur this united front, but hopefully we can all remember the value of working together and putting differences aside for the greater good.