Congressman Nadler’s Bill to Expand Eligibility for FEMA Disaster Assistance Passes T&I Committee

May 24, 2017 Issues: New York and Our Neighborhoods, Intellectual Property/Technology

Washington D.C. -- Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the highest ranking Democratic member from the northeast, announced the Committee passed his bill, H.R. 1684, the Disaster Assistance Support for Communities and Homeowners Act of 2017, without objection.  The bill addresses the outstanding issue many New Yorkers face in the aftermath of natural disasters because they are not eligible for FEMA disaster assistance based on the type of home they live in. The legislation directs FEMA to provide technical assistance to Common Interest Communities to ensure they are eligible to apply for public assistance, and instructs FEMA to provide legislative proposals to Congress in order to make condos and co-ops eligible for disaster assistance in the future.

“In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, thousands of New Yorkers and other Americans were stunned to learn they were ineligible for FEMA assistance because of the type of home they live in,” said Congressman Nadler. “FEMA’s eligibility rules left homeowners in my district with no way to restore their homes to habitable condition. This bill will be a big step towards ensuring that all homeowners, no matter the type of home they live in, can restore their homes to a livable condition and begin to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of a disaster.”

The full text of Rep. Nadler’s statement, as prepared, can be found below:

"Thank you Chairman Shuster and Ranking Member DeFazio for bringing this bipartisan legislation before the committee today. And thank you, Mr. Sanford, for cosponsoring it.

"This bill will help address an issue that dates back to Superstorm Sandy. In the aftermath of the storm, thousands of New Yorkers and other Americans were stunned to learn they were ineligible for FEMA assistance because of the type of home they live in. Families who lived in condominium buildings (or condos) were eligible for assistance only on their individual units but could not get any assistance to repair ground floor entryways, boilers, or other common areas. Those who live in co-operational housing (or “co-ops”), were ineligible for any disaster assistance to repair the walls or floors of their units let alone their common areas. In the storm surge area in New York, nearly 20 percent of housing units are in co-op buildings and an additional eight percent are condominiums.  

"FEMA’s eligibility rules left homeowners in my district with no way to restore their homes to habitable condition. Seniors in high-rise condo buildings could get assistance to repair their floors and repaint their walls but nothing to fix the elevators they needed to reach their units. Families in co-ops could replace their furnishings and make some repairs but the halls of the buildings remained covered with mold and uninhabitable.

"While issues with co-ops obviously arise more frequently for residents of New York and New Jersey, almost every district in the country has condos. Community associations, or Common Interest Communities, around the country have experienced similar roadblocks when they seek assistance following disasters in the five years since Superstorm Sandy. Many of these associations own and operate their own roads, canals, bridges, and water systems. In the aftermath of a disaster, the associations are not eligible for FEMA public assistance for basic, essential government services such as removing trees and debris from communal roads or repairing wastewater systems. Tree removal on public roads stops at the entrance to these neighborhoods; residents cannot get out of their neighborhoods and emergency vehicles cannot get in.

"This bill would address these eligibility problems in two ways. First, it would direct FEMA to provide technical assistance to Common Interest Communities to ensure they are eligible to apply for public assistance. Many of these communities are unaware they could already be eligible for assistance if, prior to a disaster, they enter into agreements with their local government on issues like debris removal. If FEMA provides some assistance and outreach to communities now, the communities can enter into those agreements and access assistance after a disaster.

"Second, my colleagues and I have communicated several times with FEMA about the issue of condo and co-op eligibility for disaster assistance. Most recently, in FY2016, Congress requested FEMA write a report to the Appropriations Committee outlining what issues would need to be addressed to make condos and co-ops eligible. My bill, with the amendment we will consider in a moment, would direct FEMA to take the next step in this process by providing the House and Senate committees legislative proposals to address the issues its prior reports have identified and to make condos and co-ops eligible for disaster assistance. I look forward to reviewing the proposals that come from FEMA and moving forward with our efforts.

"Mr. Chairman, this bill will be a big step towards ensuring that all homeowners, no matter the type of home they live in, can restore their homes to a livable condition and begin to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of a disaster. Thank you again for bringing it up today, and I yield back my time."

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