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BPC Disaster Response Reform Task Force Letter to Senate Banking on S. 1686

September 18, 2023

The Honorable Sherrod Brown
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
534 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Tim Scott
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
534 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Brown and Ranking Member Scott:

The Bipartisan Policy Center first convened in 2020 and recently relaunched a Disaster Response Reform Task Force focused on making Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other federal disaster assistance more timely, equitable, and impactful. With that goal in mind, we urge the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs to include S. 1686, the Reforming Disaster Recovery Act, at its next scheduled mark-up session. This legislation, sponsored by a bipartisan group of 14 senators, would codify and significantly improve HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CBDG-DR) program, which helps address the long-term recovery needs of low- to moderate-income individuals and households arising from major disasters.

Already this year, there have been 23 confirmed disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion—including the August wildfires that devastated parts of Maui, burning thousands of buildings and tragically killing at least 115 people, according to the most recent reporting, and damage from Hurricane Idalia as it passed through Florida and the Southeast. These communities need federal assistance to help rebuild homes, repair critical infrastructure, and get businesses and communities back up and running.

The CDBG-DR program was first funded almost three decades ago and, in the intervening years, has become one of the most significant sources of long-term rebuilding assistance that a community impacted by a major disaster can receive. In that time, although there have been notable successes in the use of CDBG-DR to promote long-term recovery, that record of performance is increasingly in jeopardy. The reality is that, as CDBG-DR has “matured,” it has run headlong into a set of predictable challenges. Uncertain funding, broadened requirements, expanded expectations, inadequate administrative resources, and a creeping undergrowth of policies (as process and programmatic tweaks accumulate in the absence of a permanent authorization) have collectively slowed many grantee efforts to a crawl. Lengthy Federal Register notices can take months to produce while denying predictability to state and local governments actively serving disaster survivors.

While FEMA is the lead federal agency in emergency response given its responsibilities under the Stafford Act, programs like CDBG-DR play a critical role in supporting longer-term rebuilding and recovery efforts. This is most notable regarding substantial housing repair and reconstruction, something FEMA programs are not suited to do. If CDBG-DR is to continue to deliver benefits to communities most impacted by major disasters and to direct those benefits primarily to those with the fewest resources to recover in the wake of disasters, Congress must prioritize efforts to reform and codify the program.

S. 1686 would direct HUD to establish permanent regulations for CDBG-DR, enhancing the program’s efficiency and predictability. The bill also incorporates recommendations from both the Government Accountability Office and HUD’s Office of the Inspector General, including reforms that would improve federal coordination, reduce unnecessary bureaucratic burdens, and authorize “quick release” funds to assist communities immediately following disasters. Together, these reforms would empower disaster-impacted communities to better support their lowest-income, most vulnerable members throughout their long-term recovery.

The measures in S. 1686 have robust, bipartisan support among experts with firsthand experience in disaster recovery. This support reflects the fact that CDBG-DR funding is promoting recovery across the full spectrum of states, with California, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Puerto Rico being the most significant recipients since 2017. Driving this point home is the fact that BPC conducted a survey of CDBG-DR grantees and 97% agreed on the importance of a permanent statutory authorization.

Congress continues to appropriate funding to CDBG-DR because communities impacted by disasters rely heavily upon it to address unmet long-term recovery needs, particularly housing. While CDBG-DR funding provides a lifeline to many families trying to get back on their feet, without reform and codification, communities impacted by future disasters will continue to face the same delays that weaken their recoveries. Now is the time to make the program more efficient and effective to ensure that the billions of taxpayer dollars directed toward this program in the future support more rapid and successful recoveries.

In recent years, although Congress has considered versions of this legislation to permanently authorize the CDBG-DR program to speed up the delivery of recovery aid, reduce administrative burdens on HUD and grantees, and improve the program’s effectiveness. Most of the effort has taken place in the House of Representatives, but mark-up of S. 1686 by this Committee would help to advance these important reforms and signal the Senate’s commitment to meeting the increasing needs of disaster-impacted communities across our nation. Our Task Force stands ready to assist.


BPC’s Disaster Response Reform Task Force


Kevin Bush – Principal, Resilient Infrastructure, Cadmus Group; Former HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs and District of Columbia Chief Resilience Officer

Jeffrey Byard – Vice President of Operations, Team Rubicon; Former FEMA Associate Administrator for Response and Recovery

Pete Gaynor (Task Force Co-Chair) – Senior Vice President and Director of National Resilience, Response and Recovery Programs, GEI Consultants; Former FEMA Administrator

Fernando Gil-Enseñat – Principal, FGE LLC; Former Puerto Rico Secretary of Housing

Stan Gimont – Senior Advisor for Community Recovery, Hagerty Consulting; Former HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Grant Programs

Jennifer Gray Thompson – Founder and CEO, After the Fire USA

Pamela Hughes Patenaude (Task Force Co-Chair) – Board Member, Bipartisan Policy Center; Former HUD Deputy Secretary

Bryan Koon – Vice President of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, IEM; Former Florida Director of Emergency Management

Reese May – Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, SBP

Ben Metcalf – Managing Director, Terner Center, University of California-Berkeley; Former Director, California Department of Housing and Community Development

Neal Rackleff – Attorney at Law, Rackleff LLP; Former HUD Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development

Chauncia Willis – Co-Founder and CEO, Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management; Former Emergency Manager of Tampa, FL

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