Presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is introducing a bill Wednesday to expand access to federal housing assistance for survivors of natural disasters.
The bill is a response to problems that Puerto Rican evacuees faced getting federal housing assistance after their homes were damaged by Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.
“Catastrophic natural disasters from Puerto Rico to California have devastated families and left them searching for safe, stable and affordable housing,” Warren said in a statement. “The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act would push the Federal government to step up for these families and make it easier for them to access the help they are entitled to and desperately need.”
The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y.
There are housing assistance programs already in place for disaster victims who lose their homes. But after the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, many survivors did not have the documents necessary — things like leases, titles or land records — to access those programs, and their claims were denied.
In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered a temporary shelter program and some housing assistance through a program that pays for short-term lodging and home repairs. But FEMA did not ask the Office of Housing and Urban Development to activate the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP, which offers help paying rent, security deposits or utilities to displaced people to help them get into stable housing.
DHAP is meant to help people access housing for longer than the temporary FEMA programs.
Advocates for those displaced by the hurricanes have criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for its response to the hurricanes in Puerto Rico.
“The treatment of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico by the Trump administration is a slap in the face and blatant disregard of the lives of thousands of individuals and families in need,” Espaillat said in a statement. “The Trump administration’s inability to provide adequate disaster relief, coupled with FEMA’s crippling delay and lack of coordination with housing authorities to issue disaster recovery funding is appalling and outright embarrassing.”
Warren and Espaillat’s bill would try to address both problems.
The bill would expand eligibility for assistance to help a larger group of people, including those living in boarding houses, mobile homes or trailers, or those who are homeless.
It would also make it easier to apply for assistance. Rather than having to show a deed or title to a property, someone could prove residence using a utility bill, driver’s license, pay stub, property tax receipt, school registration or other documents.
While the bill would not require federal officials to activate DHAP, it would require officials from FEMA and the Office of Housing and Urban Development to discuss activating the housing program any time the president declares a major disaster.
The bill would also provide DHAP housing benefits to anyone who still needs them from disasters in 2017 and 2018, which would include the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and wildfires in California.
After the hurricanes, Western Massachusetts received a huge influx of Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland. Warren and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced a similar bill last year, but it did not become law.
US Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey offer bill to help hurricane evacuees, other disaster survivors find stable housing U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, announced legislation Thursday that looks to assist individuals who survive major natural disasters access stable, long-term housing -- an issue which has plagued several people who fled Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria last fall.
US Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey offer bill to help hurricane evacuees, other disaster survivors find stable housing
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, announced legislation Thursday that looks to assist individuals who survive major natural disasters access stable, long-term housing -- an issue which has plagued several people who fled Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria last fall.