WASHINGTON – People impacted by hurricanes and other disasters would more easily receive federal assistance for shelter and home repairs under legislation advanced Tuesday for consideration by the U.S. House.
“Today's disasters are more frequent,” U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, told the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which recommended the bill to the full House without dissent. “They cause more damage. They have greater impacts on communities. They require more time and money to recover. Therefore, it’s imperative that we cut the red tape within this assistance program to deliver resources to individuals and communities in need and ensure we're being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Titus, who is the ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee that oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, cosponsored H.R. 1796, the Disaster Survivors Fairness Act of 2023.
“The current disaster recovery system is as useful as a screen door during a hurricane,” Graves has said. “Our bipartisan legislation changes the status quo and empowers states to tailor response to the communities based on the disaster at hand instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all approach.”
A special task force under Titus’ transportation subcommittee was formed soon after Hurricane Ida became the second Category 4 storm to slam Louisiana in as many years. Ida was ninth tropical event to hit the U.S. in 2021.
The storm marched across America, spawned tornadoes, flooded parts of New York City, and damaged power lines in New England. Ida caused about $75 billion in damage and killed 87 people.
Titus was chair of the transportation subcommittee until earlier this year when the Republicans took the majority in the House.
The bill proposes that FEMA create a universal application that is easily accessible for disaster victims and expands eligibility for hazard mitigation assistance to harden properties for the next storm, Titus said.
Rules would change and the various federal agencies that provide relief would be able to share relevant disaster assistance information with each other if H.R. 1796 is enacted. The president and FEMA would have to clear fewer hurdles to give money to disaster victims as well as to local and state governments for direct housing help and resiliency repairs. More assistance would also be available to renters.
The Government Accountability Office would monitor assistance applications, and provide to Congress reasons why an application was denied. Along with FEMA, the GAO would conduct studies and seek additional solutions for administering disaster aid.
The legislation would get disaster aid to communities faster, more effectively, while providing “oversight to ensure the majority of assistance isn't being awarded to wealthy homeowners while low-income areas are denied,” Titus said.
“This legislation will save taxpayer dollars by putting people back in their homes quicker, thus reducing the need for costly famous sheltering. Who can forget the pictures of all those trailers following (Hurricane) Katrina?” she said.
The legislation was also supported by Rep. Troy Carter, a Democrat on the transportation committee who was involved in the drafting of the legislation. He represents parts of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, along with the Mississippi River communities between those two cities. Hurricane Ida wrecked much of Carter's district.
"With this bill I am once again committing to advocate for effective preparedness and recovery measure programs that best serve Americans and don’t leave anyone behind,” Carter told the committee. “Disasters don’t recognize borders or political party, and neither should our nation’s disaster preparedness or recovery systems.”
If the full House approves the Disaster Survivors Fairness Act of 2023, the measure would go to the U.S. Senate, which would have to agree to exact wording of the bill. Only then would H.R. 1796 go to the president for his signature, which would make it law.