Nelson files bill to force FEMA to continue providing housing assistance to storm victims

May 17, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) filed legislation today to require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to activate its Disaster Housing Assistance Program to continue providing housing assistance to thousands of families still displaced after last year’s hurricanes – including thousands of Puerto Rican families forced to flee the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The move comes just two days after FEMA denied the governor of Puerto Rico’s request to activate the program. And just weeks after the agency announced that it will end a separate temporary housing assistance program that's currently providing hotel rooms to hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families living in Florida on June 30 – leaving many of them with no assistance and nowhere to go after the program ends.

"This administration has failed the people of Puerto Rico," Nelson said. "If they’re not going to act, then Congress must. These displaced families are American citizens who desperately need our help. We have a responsibility to help them, just as we would want to be helped if we were in their shoes."

If approved, Nelson's legislation would require FEMA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to immediately activate a joint interagency housing program, known as the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, or DHAP, to continue providing housing assistance to the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria – including hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families living in Florida – through February 2019.

The DHAP program was first activated in 2007, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to help relocate storm victims out of defective FEMA trailers and into more traditional housing. It was used again in 2008 to provide housing assistance to victims of Hurricane Ike and Gustav.

Once activated, DHAP provides monthly rent subsidies to eligible families displaced by a storm to help them pay for temporary housing in the wake of a disaster. The program can provide eligible families with housing assistance for up to 18 months after a disaster is declared, which means it could provide victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria with housing assistance through February 2019.

The program is initiated through an interagency agreement between FEMA and HUD, where FEMA funds the program and establishes the eligibility criteria for displaced families, while HUD uses its existing processes to administer the program and provide displaced families with the assistance they need.

On Tuesday, FEMA rejected a formal request made by the governor of Puerto Rico in December to activate the program. If approved, Nelson's legislation would require the agencies to immediately activate DHAP for anyone still displaced by last year’s storms – including hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican families in Florida who could soon be forced out of their hotel rooms on June 30.

In addition to Nelson, the bill is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

A copy of the legislation is available here.

Thousands of displaced Puerto Rican families could be kicked out of hotels on June 20; Nelson’s bill would provide housing assistance through Feb. 2019
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