Senator Reverend Warnock, Colleagues Reintroduce Legislation to Help Survivors of Natural Disasters

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, joined 13 Senate colleagues in reintroducing the Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act, legislation to help communities affected by major natural disasters access housing assistance.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) often turns away eligible disaster survivors who are unable to present property titles, written leases, and other similar documents to show residency and occupancy of disaster-damaged property. In areas where mobile homes and alternative property ownership methods are prevalent, disaster survivors can be prevented from accessing aid because of this requirement. 

Senator Warnock is a stalwart advocate for those impacted by natural disasters. Following the devastating 2021 storms in Newnan, the Senator visited the community to survey damages and called for a federal disaster declaration. Senator Warnock also pushed local insurance providers to support the region’s recovery process and to provide more staff and resources towards helping residents navigate the complicated and confusing insurance claim process. He also urged FEMA to support the City of Newnan’s request for Private Property Debris Removal (PPDR) assistance after returning to Newnan a year after the destructive tornado. Additionally, last September, Senator Warnock introduced bipartisan legislation to help America’s forest landowners recover from timber losses after a natural disaster.

Senator Warnock introduced the legislation along with Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Alex Padilla (D-CA).  

The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act would:

  • Allow for disaster relief funds to be used for the acquisition of a property title in regions where a natural disaster is declared by the president.

  • Require FEMA to consider additional forms of evidence when determining assistance eligibility, including a utility bill, merchant statement, pay stub, current driver’s license or state-issued ID, property title or mobile home certificate of title, property tax receipt, school registration, a will and testament, a death certificate that established automatic transfer of ownership, medical records, a charitable donation receipt, or any other documentation, certification, identification, or proof of occupancy or ownership not included on this list that can reasonably link the individual requesting assistance to the applicable property

  • Require FEMA to create a declarative statement form, which would allow a disaster relief applicant to self-certify eligibility for assistance

  • Allow individuals who have previously been denied assistance due to restrictive proof-of-ownership requirements to reopen cases and use new, expanded documentation to become eligible for assistance (applies to disasters declared after January 1, 2017).

  • Allow disaster relief funds to be used for repairs, not just rebuilding homes that have been rendered completely uninhabitable

  • Require FEMA and HUD to engage in consultations regarding the implementation of a DHAP, or a similar joint program, within 60 days of a disaster declaration

“As we know, Puerto Rico has not yet recovered from Hurricane Maria, and is again suffering widespread destruction from Hurricane Fiona.  The Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act will help thousands of fellow Puerto Ricans, who were not able to apply for FEMA assistance, access disaster relief immediately by making it easier for them to show proof of ownership and residency.  This assistance will finally help these families recover everything they have lost after these major natural disasters,” said Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, IBA-Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción.

“Survivors of major natural disasters need FEMA assistance, not unnecessary paperwork hurdles to navigate during their time of need.  As natural disasters like Hurricane Ian become more frequent and more damaging, we must not delay in passing the Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act,” said Caroline Nagy, senior policy counsel for housing, corporate power, and climate justice at Americans for Financial Reform. 

“Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity, just as inequality and our nation’s housing crisis grows. The lowest-income people and communities are consistently the hardest hit by disasters – without focused action, they are often left behind in its recovery and rebuilding,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Senator Warren and Congressman Espaillat’s important legislation would begin to address the legacy of a failed response to Hurricane Maria, activate needed and proven housing solutions, and authorize reforms to help ensure that the lowest-income and most marginalized survivors of all disasters receive the housing assistance they need to rebuild their lives. NLIHC and our Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition urge Congress to quickly advance this bill.”

This legislation is endorsed by: the National Low Income Housing Coalition, UnidosUS, Hispanic Federation, Americans for Financial Reform, United Way of Central Massachusetts, Seven Hills Foundation, and Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion. 

Click here for the full bill text.