September 13, 2006
The Honorable Don Young
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
The House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
I write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to urge Congress to make necessary changes to both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act so that we are better prepared as a nation to assist people overcome by natural disasters.
The hurricanes of 2005 devastated the Gulf Coast from Alabama to Southwestern Texas leaving death, destruction, homelessness, and despair in their wake. The amount of destruction from Katrina and Rita is truly unimaginable. The Catholic community has responded with prayers, money, direct service and assistance to the tens of thousands of families who suffered some loss in the catastrophes. Local Catholic dioceses and Catholic Charities agencies would welcome changes in the federal response programs to make their efforts to assist people more effective.
One major obstacle confronting those rebuilding the Gulf Coast is the lack of affordable housing. FEMAs response to Hurricane Katrina taught us that people need clear, consistent public information about the types of housing assistance available to them; they need to know the eligibility requirements for obtaining assistance and the procedures for applying for that assistance. Based on the experience of last years hurricanes and the federal response, we support four necessary changes to the Stafford Act and FEMA:
- Public Guidance: Families displaced by disaster should have access to critical information about disaster housing assistance. By law, FEMA should be required to provide clear, accessible guidance on types of disaster housing assistance available, eligibility requirements, and application procedures.
- Temporary Housing Assistance: The President should have the flexibility to make use of temporary housing options that are higher quality and more cost effective than trailers.
- Utility Costs and Fair Market Rent: The President should have the authority to adjust the rental assistance to adapt to post-disaster rental markets and to help people with disabilities to secure temporary housing that meets their needs. Rental assistance should be able to cover utility costs and security deposits.
- Eligibility: People displaced by disaster are often separated from other household members; they should not be unfairly denied housing assistance.
Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D.
Bishop of Brooklyn
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee