Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Lack of staff, structure at HUD agency slows hurricane aid

Lack of structure and staff at a federal agency and a funding battle in Congress over relief for Puerto Rico are stalling aid to survivors of natural disasters. Many rural areas are having a harder time recovering than their urban counterparts.

"A slow start to the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program has led to virtually none of the funds being disbursed, despite Congress approving the spending more than a year ago," Eric Katz reports for Route Fifty. "HUD’s 'ad hoc' approach to overseeing and monitoring the funds has created lags in four states and territories—Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands—providing relief to individuals affected by the hurricanes, the Government Accountability Office found."

The CDBG program usually helps disaster survivors with housing, infrastructure and economic revitalization not covered through insurance or other programs. But HUD doesn't have permanent authority to issue emergency funds, so it must create a new regulatory framework for each disaster, Katz reports. 

After Congress approved assistance for areas hit by hurricanes in 2017, it took CDBG five months to create that framework, then another six months to make agreements with states and territories about the financing and implementation of those plans. "In the meantime, the auditors noted that HUD’s inspector general has already identified several issues with the states and territories' controls over the money," Katz reports. "GAO also found that HUD does not deploy a uniform assessment of those controls or other key data from the grantees, such as how they estimate their unmet needs. This has led to the current appropriation of $35 billion, most of which will go to Puerto Rico, being insufficient for addressing recovery efforts in the affected areas."

On Capitol Hill, the fight over funding relief for Puerto Rico is slowing passage of a $13.5 billion disaster aid bill that has broad bipartisan support going into the Senate this week. "The White House, however, isn’t pleased with the bill and is particularly opposed to efforts by Democrats to make hurricane relief to Puerto Rico more generous," Andrew Taylor reports for the Associated Press. "Senate Republicans are supporting food aid to the devastated island and are working with top Democrats like Patrick Leahy of Vermont to try to speed passage of the measure by adding additional help for Puerto Rico."

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