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Wagner's Disaster Recovery Bill Headed to House Floor

Jun 7, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON- Today, the House Financial Services Committee passed H.R.4557, the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2017. This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Congresswoman Ann Wagner (MO-O2), will establish much-needed guidance and standards on how disaster funds are distributed and accounted for. It will ensure that taxpayer-funded disaster relief dollars are spent efficiently to help those most in need.

“Simply put, the current CDBG-DR program is broken,” said Congresswoman Wagner. “Most importantly, this legislation will help us ensure disaster funds are getting to those who need them most, when they need it,” she added. Available below are the Congresswoman’s full remarks from today’s committee markup and additional background information on H.R. 4557.

Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), applauded the legislation. “On behalf of NLIHC and the Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, I commend Congresswoman Wagner for her leadership in drafting landmark legislation, which would ensure that federal recovery efforts are better able to reach the lowest income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, people experiencing homelessness, and other vulnerable people and the communities they live in,” said Yentel. “We look forward to working with Congressional leaders to further improve and enact this important legislation.”

 

Wagner Discusses the Importance of Reforming Broken Disaster Recovery Program

BILL SUMMARY FOR H.R. 4557:

Introduced by Rep. Ann Wagner, H.R. 4557, the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act of 2018, authorizes HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. The bill would amend Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 to establish guidance and standards on how disaster funds may be distributed and accounted for if those funds are appropriated by Congress and distributed through the Community Development Block Grant program to be given to states and localities.

THE LIST OF SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONS INCLUDES: National Low Income Housing Coalition, Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, Enterprise Community Partners, and the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies

FULL REMARKS:

Thank you, Chairman Hensarling.

When a natural disaster strikes, the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program helps rebuild our communities. These relief funds provide essential emergency aid and jumpstart the recovery process for those MOST in need.

Earlier this year, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations began a bipartisan effort, examining ways to improve the CDBG-DR program.

Mr. Chairman, I’m proud to say, today’s legislation is a product of that work.

In testimony before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee last year, members heard from the Acting IG at HUD, who identified issues Congress should address, which included; codifying CDBG-DR into statue, increasing oversight by addressing duplication of benefits and establishing procurement standards, and finally, establishing a procedure to recapture unused funds. 

Simply put, the current CDBG-DR program is broken. While HUD has become a primary provider of disaster recovery, the program is not law. Instead, HUD uses more than 60 Federal Register notices to issue clarifying guidance, waivers, and alternative requirements to the CDBG-DR program which oversees the over 113 active disaster recovery grants.

In testimony before our Subcommittee last month, members heard from a variety of stakeholders who all had the same message.

In particular, one witness noted, “disaster recovery could be greatly expedited if HUD had written regulations that governed supplemental CDBG-DR allocations. States would not have to guess at what regulations would be applicable from event to event nor would they have to wait for the Federal Register to be published to begin program design and development of Action Plans.”

This bill provides that roadmap.

H.R. 4557 also helps to eliminate the duplication of benefits that can often occur in the wake of the government response to a natural disaster. A 2016 CRS report highlighted that, “despite quality checks and audits, agencies continue to provide duplicative disaster assistance to individuals and businesses.”

Benefits from multiple sources of federal aid—FEMA, SBA, HUD—can result in confusion, and, as a result, benefits are being incorrectly allocated. The message here is clear—Congress is compelling these agencies to cooperate better and share as much information and data as possible.

Finally, Congress needs to set parameters for this funding. In testimony before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, the Acting IG at HUD noted $11.5 billion worth of CDBG-DR funds that were appropriated for disasters going all the way back to 9/11, and they remain unspent. $11.5 billion taxpayer dollars.

H.R. 4557 also sets up a mechanism to recapture these unused CDBG-DR funds—something that currently does not exist. 

We must do a better job recouping this lost money for future disasters. And most importantly, this will help us ensure disaster funds are getting to those who need them most, when they need it.

Before I conclude, I want to take a moment and thank the ranking member of our Subcommittee, the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Green, who has been a great partner in this endeavor. I appreciate his willingness to work with me and ensure disaster relief is being spent on victims of natural disasters.

Mr. Chairman, I want to close by pointing out that since that first supplemental appropriations act in 1992, Congress has appropriated $85 billion in CDBG-DR funds—with $35 billion being spent this Congress alone—and it has done so with little to no accountability. For over 25 years we have treated this program like a band-aid. It’s about time Congress makes the CDBG-DR permanent and accountable to the people that we serve. With that, I yield back.