Rebuilding Together Supports S.1630, the Disaster Recovery Act of 2011

Rebuilding Together joined with other members of the Stafford Act Reform Group in signing and sending a letter to the Senate calling for action on reforms to the Stafford Act, reforms that will better serve low-income homeowners struggling to recover from disaster. Read the full text of the letter below.

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November 19, 2012

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
United States Senate

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
United States Senate

The Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman
Chairman Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
United States Senate

The Honorable Susan Collins
Ranking Member
Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
United States Senate

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Lieberman, and Ranking Member Collins,

We, the undersigned members of the Stafford Act Reform Group (formerly known as the Katrina Housing Group), are writing to express our strong support for S. 1630, the Disaster Recovery Act of 2011. We are very grateful to Senators Landrieu and Cochran for introducing this critical measure. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on the housing stock of affected states underscores the importance of this legislation. While the full impact of the storm is still being assessed, it is evident that tens of thousands of households will require medium and long term federal housing assistance. It is critical that lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita be incorporated into the Hurricane Sandy response and recovery effort. Given the severity of the situation, we urge you to schedule a markup of S.1630 in the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.

The Stafford Act Reform Group has been convened by the National Low Income Housing Coalition since September 2005, initially as the Katrina Housing Group. The group has advocated for a just and comprehensive federal response to the acute housing crisis of the low income people of the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We urge important amendments to the Stafford Act, the statutory authority for disaster response and recovery, in order to improve housing outcomes for victims of future disasters.

The devastation and displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina was so extreme that it required a federal authority to oversee the response and recovery. We learned that states vary significantly in their capacity and willingness to respond to emergencies in a manner that treats all of their residents equally. S. 1630 would make key improvements to the Stafford Act in several areas to ensure that everyone living in the United States receives equal treatment following a disaster no matter where they live.

First, the bill clearly defines when a disaster is considered to be catastrophic and sets up mechanisms to ensure an appropriate federal role.

Second, the bill would make substantial improvements to the existing case management system for disaster victims. One of the most serious flaws in the response to Hurricane Katrina was the chaotic manner in which victims received information about the services and programs to which they were entitled. The KHG identified the disjointed and ineffective case management system as one of the impediments to survivors moving to permanent housing in the Gulf Coast.

S. 1630 would require that FEMA, HHS, and HUD develop a single, comprehensive case management system and within one year develop regulations to ensure that every survivor has a single point of contact for case management services. These provisions are consistent with the recommendations we made after Katrina and we wholeheartedly support them.

Third, the bill would also make critical changes to the housing response and recovery activities authorized under the Stafford Act. The Stafford Act Reform Group maintains that any disaster response and recovery effort must minimize the time that households are in temporary housing and must ensure a seamless transition for these households to new permanent housing.

S. 1630 includes several provisions that work to meet these goals. The bill would require all federal agencies that provide housing assistance to define the roles and responsibilities of each agency in the provision of disaster housing assistance. The bill would make simplifications to current law to ensure that damaged rental properties could be quickly repaired and re-occupied instead of allowing money to be wasted on temporary housing units. Further, the bill would allow for assistance to be provided to more than one household associated with the same pre-disaster address, if the household had to separate for reasons related to the disaster.

S. 1630 marks the most significant effort to improve the Stafford Act to date. While the bill does not go quite as far as we think is necessary, we look forward to working with the Committee to strengthen the bill as it advances in a markup.

It is critical that it S. 1630 be enacted as quickly as possible to ensure that the housing needs of victims of future disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, are met. Please do not hesitate to contact Sham Manglik of NLIHC at 202.662.1530 x 243 for more information.

Sincerely,

Alabama Appleseed
Boat People SOS, Inc.
Enterprise Community Partners
Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center
Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA)
Habitat for Humanity International
LeadingAge
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
Louisiana Housing Alliance
Mississippi Center for Justice
National Housing Law Project
National Low Income Housing Coalition
PolicyLink
Providence Community Housing
Rebuilding Together
Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc.
Texas Appleseed