(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi County’s eruption recovery team is not the only group of government officials wondering why its taking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development so long to award disaster recovery funds.
On Thursday, U.S. Representatives sitting on the House Appropriations Committee questioned HUD officials during a hearing on Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program.
Hawaiʻi County, like many states and municipalities, awaits the CDBG-DR process to begin with a notice in the Federal Register. “We’ve been expecting it,” said Roy Takemoto, the executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim. “First the feds told us July, then they said October.”
The money would help with the recovery effort following the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea Volcano. “We have been kind of promised about $66.9 million, but that money doesn’t become committed until the federal register,” Takemoto said.
The Big Island is not the only one waiting. In Washington, lawmakers are putting HUD officials on the spot.
“Congress has never formally authorized the CDBG-DR program,” said subcommittee chair Rep. David Price during yesterday’s hearing. “That means that for each appropriation, the department must issue a notice in the Federal Register that outlines grantees funding, allocations, program requirements, and waivers. Without this notice, states cannot submit action plans to the department, or sign a grant agreement, or begin to draw funding; necessary steps that take at least several months after the notice is issued. Today, there dozens of Federal Register notices governing 123 active grants for 57 grantees across the country.”
“However, issuing Federal Register notices has taken longer in recent years,” Rep. Price said. “After the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, HUD needed 45 days after the initial appropriation to issue the notice. After Sandy in 2012, it took 35 days. But after the 2017 hurricanes, it took 145 days. And when Congress appropriated CDBG-DR mitigation funding in February of last year, HUD didn’t issue a notice until August of this year, a delay of 18 months. That’s 547 days. And even then the notice came only after Congress initiated a statutory deadline.”
The congressional representatives were primarily focused on Puerto Rico during the hearing. HUD has been withholding the required Federal Register notice for Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“We have all heard concerns about how long it takes CDBG-DR funds to get out to those in need,” testified witness Jeremy Kirkland, Counsel to the Inspector General at HUD. “The process is lengthy and confusing for everyone involved. Currently there are 76 active Federal Register notices, dating back to 9/11 that grantees must navigate to determine how to design and implement their local programs. Often, primary grantees are new or inexperienced, further complicating an already cumbersome process. We strongly recommend a clear and permanent framework for this program. We believe it will reduce the time between appropriation and disbursement, and will provide consistency surrounding the requirements of the CDBG-DR program, upon which grantees and the public can rely. Any permanent authorization should be subject to HUD oversight at all stages and ensure that strong guidelines are enacted, for which the grantees remain responsible throughout the duration of their Action Plan. We also hope any permanent authorization will consider identifying core program activities more clearly.”