House Passes Axne-Sponsored Disaster Recovery Reform Bill

November 19, 2019
Press Release
Legislation streamlines federal recovery programs to help communities rebuild following natural disasters

WASHINGTON – Today, the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Reforming Disaster Recovery Act to modernize federal disaster recovery programs in order to improve government services while saving taxpayer dollars. This legislation, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03), would ensure funds appropriated by Congress are delivered to disaster victims in a timely manner and would protect taxpayer dollars by increasing safeguards against misuse of program resources. The legislation will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.

“I spent a decade at the State of Iowa streamlining government programs to improve services while saving taxpayer dollars, so I know inefficiency when I see it. Our federal disaster recovery programs are inefficient. Following the devastating flooding that hit Southwest Iowa, I heard countless stories of constituents who couldn’t get access to the resources they needed because of Washington dysfunction. That’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Axne, a member of the House Financial Services Committee. “This legislation will streamline federal recovery programs in order to ensure that Iowans receive the resources they need to recover as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

In response to Presidentially declared disasters, Congress may appropriate additional funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program as Disaster Recovery grants (CDBG-DR) following severe disasters. CDBG-DR grants help rebuild affected areas and provide seed money to start the long-term recovery process. This legislation increases the efficiency of the CDBG-DR grant program by codifying in federal law the fundamental requirements and policy objectives of the CDBG-DR program.

In order to streamline the process, the legislation will 1) create a standardized grant application; 2) implement agency response time requirements for application requests; 3) remove bureaucratic red tape that slows the distribution of resources; 4) increase measures to prevent against abuse and fraud of program resources; and 5) require that taxpayer funds be used for resilient construction.

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Authorize HUD to provide for consistency in the disaster recovery process. Once enacted, the bill directs HUD to undertake a formal rulemaking pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act in order to develop generally-applicable procedures and program requirements for all future disasters, with notice to and comment from all interested parties.
  • Ensure the timely and efficient distribution of relief funds appropriated by Congress to the disaster victims. By setting reasonable timeframes for agency action on approval, disapproval, and amendment of grantee action plans, the bill eliminates long delays that currently plague the program, and that are now approaching two years since being appropriated.
  • End bureaucratic delays and impediments to the prompt and fair distribution of disaster relief resources as intended by Congress. By codifying the ground rules within federal statute, the bill will eliminate the need under current appropriations for HUD to reinvent the wheel after every disaster, as it does now, through serial, labor-intensive and time-consuming notice and comment processes. It is because of this broken process that grantees have yet to receive billions of dollars in funds Congress appropriated for disaster mitigation in 2017, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
  • Safeguard against misuse of program resources at all levels. The bill protects taxpayer dollars against the risk of fraud or misuse by dedicating substantial resources to fund oversight, audits, and inspections of funded activities by HUD’s Office of the Inspector General, which has contributed to the drafting of the legislation.

Incorporate 21st Century mitigation resiliency standards. These standards will help ensure CDBG-DR funds are invested into projects that are better able to withstand future disasters.