Congress Considering Bipartisan Legislation to Support Counties When Disasters Strike

Congress is considering a reintroduction of the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act (S.1686) to permanently authorize the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program.

HUD’s CDBG-DR program provides grants to state and local governments to rebuild affordable housing and other infrastructure (especially in low-income areas) after a presidentially declared disaster. Insurance and short-term federal assistance are typically unable to cover the costs of these types of projects, leaving state and local governments to struggle to repair infrastructure and facilitate economic development in disaster-impacted communities.

While the CDBG-DR program can fill this gap in assistance, the program’s funds can only be made available through special congressional approval. Due to the program’s lack of permanent authorization, HUD must write new regulations to guide state and local grantees each time the program is appropriated funds.

This ad hoc system significantly delays funding, resulting in lengthened recovery timelines, stagnated economies, and increased homelessness and migration. Permanently authorizing the CDBG-DR program would reduce unnecessary administrative burdens and allow counties to access funding more quickly after a disaster.

The National Association of Counties (NACo), in conjunction with the National Low Income Housing Coalition and Enterprise Community Partners, sent a letter of support to Congressional leadership with over 40 signatories in support of the bill last Congress and are working with our partners on a similar letter for the reintroduction of the bill this Congress.

While a disaster always begins and ends at the local level, a strong partnership among federal, state, and local governments is vital to emergency preparedness and community resilience. A federal emergency declaration triggers a wide range of public and private sector relief available in a crisis or disaster. However, in smaller-scale events, similar problems arise for those affected – but local governments are restricted in the funds and resources they can activate without federal declaration.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo successfully supported legislation to establish a State Disaster Recovery Fund, administered by the Maryland Department of Emergency Management (MDEM), to provide disaster recovery assistance to county governments, individuals, and families when federal aid is not available or insufficient – typically due to the nature and breadth of the event.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.