June 21, 2018

Warren, Markey Press FEMA on Providing Stable Housing for Hurricane Maria Victims and Reconsidering Denied Applications

Request List of HUD Housing Assistance Programs in Massachusetts to Help Struggling Survivors

Letter to FEMA (PDF)

Letter to HUD (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey today sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long, requesting that FEMA establish the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to provide stable housing solutions for evacuees from Hurricane Maria and asking that it reconsider denied applications for benefits after new reporting revealed significantly higher proportions of Hurricane Maria applications are denied, compared to other disasters. In a recent phone call with Senator Warren, Administrator Long again refused to stand up DHAP to address the medium- and longer-term housing needs of Hurricane Maria survivors - neglecting the repeated requests from Senators Warren and Markey, dozens of Members of Congress, and Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Instead, FEMA has launched a campaign attacking DHAP with false claims about the effectiveness of the program. After the expiration of the Transitional Shelter Assistance on June 30th, hundreds of hurricane survivors - including 145 families in Massachusetts - are at risk of homelessness because of FEMA's failure to take action.

"The federal government has a responsibility to make sure that these evacuees have access to the most effective housing options available," wrote the senators. "To fulfill this responsibility, we again urge FEMA immediately enter into an agreement with HUD to establish the DHAP program and urge FEMA engage in another review of the evacuees who have been deemed ineligible for continued assistance."

Administrator Long has provided three excuses for why FEMA will not work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish DHAP. He suggested DHAP was unnecessary because eligible evacuees are being served by FEMA's Individuals and Households Program (IHP). The IHP rental assistance program provides limited rental assistance to evacuees, but then they are left on their own to find affordable, stable housing. It does not include support from housing personnel who are familiar with the area and equipped to help evacuees navigate their new communities. Because of this special expertise, a George W. Bush era report concluded that HUD should lead the effort to plan for temporary and long-term housing needs of disaster evacuees. The 2009 National Disaster Housing Strategy had the same recommendation.

Administrator Long has also suggested that more than half of the evacuees still living in Massachusetts are not eligible DHAP. But it appears that FEMA may be improperly denying assistance to evacuees who are eligible. Administrator Long has also said that DHAP is costly but points to a 2011 Inspector General report that is silent on whether DHAP is more or less cost-effective than other viable option for these families. Research suggests that stable housing - as is provided through DHAP - is the most cost-effective way to keep a family from homelessness.

To ensure that FEMA is undertaking the task of establishing DHAP with the necessary urgency, Senators Warren and Markey requested a staff briefing by June 26th on the agency's progress in standing up the program. The senators today also sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Pam Patenaude asking for a list of available HUD housing assistance or homelessness prevention programs for which Hurricane Maria evacuees may be eligible, whether the programs have a waiting list, what the eligibility requirements are, and a description of their application processes. This letter is in response to FEMA's suggestion that existing affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs are adequate to meet the needs of Hurricane Maria survivors.

Senators Warren and Markey have introduced legislation that would activate DHAP to provide stable housing for survivors of Hurricane Maria and future major hurricanes. They are also co-sponsors of Senator Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) legislation to require FEMA to activate DHAP to continue providing housing assistance to thousands of families still displaced after last year's hurricanes.

Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Senator Warren has:

·         Introduced a bill to establish a “9/11-style” independent commission to investigate the federal response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

·         Led 21 of her Senate and House colleagues in sending a letter to FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services seeking information about the official accounting of fatalities due to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.  This is a follow-up to a letter Senator Warren led on this subject in October.

·         Joined her colleagues in introducing new legislation to establish federal procedures for counting fatalities following a natural disaster.

·         Met with Puerto Rican families from Western Massachusetts and pledged to continue fighting for a long term housing solution.

·         Introduced legislation that would activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP) to provide stable housing for survivors of major hurricanes.

·         Led her colleagues in writing to the Internal Revenue Service requesting information on whether the IRS and its contractors have implemented the debt collection program in a manner consistent with the law for taxpayers impacted by federally declared disasters.

·         Co-sponsored legislation by Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to force FEMA to continue providing housing assistance to storm victims.

·         Led her colleagues in urging FEMA to extend benefits for the Transitional Shelter Assistance program to Puerto Rico. A follow-up letter was sent on April 21.

·         Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census. She and Representative Nydia Velázquez sent a follow-up letter to OMB on May 16.

·         Joined Representative Nydia Velázquez's letter to urge the Federal Communications Commission not to reduce the reach of its Lifeline program in Puerto Rico.

·         Called on FEMA to immediately work with HUD to provide longer-term housing for Hurricane Maria survivors, and joined Congressman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation in requesting that the agency take immediate action in the initiation of DHAP.

·         Joined her colleagues in sending a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos opposing the planned appropriations process to distribute disaster aid funding to colleges impacted by the hurricanes and natural disasters.

·         Led her colleagues in calling on President Trump to hire a Homeland Security Advisor who takes seriously the role of climate change in triggering severe weather events that threaten the safety and security of our nation.

·         Co-sponsored a resolution by Senator Robert Menendez expressing concern about Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria and acknowledging that the federal government must do more for the island.

·         Joined her colleagues in writing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information about the draw-down of Army Corps personnel working on electricity restoration, especially on the island of Vieques.

·         Led her colleagues in writing to FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information on federal efforts to restore the electric grid in Puerto Rico, nearly six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. 

·         Called on the Treasury Department to provide to Puerto Rico the full Community Disaster Loan appropriated by Congress, and to offer terms that will promote the island's recovery.

·         Led a group of three senators in requesting information on FEMA's plans to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season following the catastrophes in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

·         Joined Senator Blumenthal in calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the contracting process for relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

·         Along with colleagues from both chambers of Congress and both sides of the aisle, reminded Puerto Rico's Oversight Board that federal relief funds for Puerto Rico are intended for disaster relief and rebuilding, not for paying creditors.

·         Urged FEMA to extend benefits for the Transitional Shelter Assistance program to Puerto Rico evacuees.

·         Requested that the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security expand its review of FEMA's contracting in Puerto Rico to include the $156 million contract awarded to Tribute Contracting LLC for self-heating meals.

·         Written to the Office of Management and Budget requesting information on how a proposal to reorganize and privatize the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) would affect the Federal Statistical System, including preparations for the 2020 Census.

·         Led her colleagues in the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Food and Drug Administration highlighting the impact of drug and medical device shortages on Massachusetts medical centers after Hurricane Maria.

·         Led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in writing to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to request information on SAMHSA's efforts to address mental health challenges in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

·         Led a congressional delegation trip to Puerto Rico to conduct oversight of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

·         Led eight of her colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in writing to HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to request that the Committee hold hearings to assess the challenges facing the health and educational systems of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

·         Called for an investigation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) decision to award over $30 million in contracts to Bronze Star LLC for temporary roofing materials in Puerto Rico that were never delivered. (The DHS IG has said it will investigate.)

·         Introduced a comprehensive plan, along with Senator Sanders and colleagues, to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.

·         Led five of her Senate colleagues in writing to the Department of Defense to request information on the Department's efforts to provide medical care in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria, and to request information on the role of the USNS Comfort in the Department's Puerto Rico response efforts. 

·         Joined colleagues in urging Senate appropriators to include in a third disaster supplemental bill additional funding to help schools impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

·         Urged Puerto Rico's Financial Oversight and Management Board to request that the Court overseeing Puerto Rico's debt restructuring completely write off the Island's debt obligations.

·         Led a group of 12 senators asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information about water- and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

·         Written to the Trump Administration outlining what ought to be included in a third disaster supplemental appropriations bill to address the damage caused by hurricanes and wildfires across the country.

·         Joined colleagues in demanding federal agencies expedite power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

·         Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.

·         Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  

·         Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.

·         Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

·         Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.

·         Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.

·         Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

·         Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.

·         Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.

·         Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  

·         Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.

·         Joined Senator Markey in calling for a resolution to the Univision-Verizon retransmission dispute, to hasten the restoration of Spanish-language news programming in the wake of the hurricanes.