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Contrary to popular belief, the scale of a disaster isn’t the only factor that determines how communities should think about recovery. Countless variables—from funding resources to environmental issues to public messaging—can impact a community’s ability to recover in an efficient and comprehensive way. In short, no matter how many disasters your community has encountered, the rules of the recovery landscape are always changing. As a result, it can be difficult to simply identify all of the factors in play, much less discern how they all interlock. Even seasoned local and state recovery teams struggle to combat the evolving onslaught of regulatory, natural, and financial challenges that accompany a disaster.
That’s why it’s crucial to work with a partner that understands the interconnected web of recovery components in an effort to emerge more resilient and solvent than before. With that in mind, we’ve outlined some common mistakes and challenges faced by local disaster recovery teams.
Too many disaster recovery teams move in haste without the right strategy, support, or experience to inform their movements. If you don’t develop a process that accounts for your specific needs from different Federal programs—all of which come with their own distinct, stringent requirements—you’ll leave money on the table.
As you contend with tension created by a range of competing, urgent needs, both short- and long-term, there is tremendous pressure to address serious immediate issues (living conditions and basicnecessities) and simultaneously make quick decisions about resilience frameworks and funding programs that stand to affect their communities for years to come. Failure to follow key steps early in the process—establishing strict data quality management policies and procedures; reinforcing Federal procurement best practices; developing accurate award estimations; etc.—can lead to application delays, confusion and anger from applicants, duplicated efforts, audit findings, and applicant frustration.
Ignoring the Hierarchy of Recovery
Applicants for CDBG-DR support often present complex or unusual situations that create exceptions to program policies. Trying to account for these exceptions as part of routine grant application processing can slow the overall process and result in mistakes. When it comes to securing financial resources, the order in which these resources are requested can make the difference between arobust funding program and one that works against itself. In the latter case, rushing to collect CBDG-DR funds can cause a community to lose out on FEMA programs. For instance, FEMA PA projects require a state/local match of at least 10 percent. CDBG-DR funds can be used to meet this match requirement, but only if the FEMA PA project meets both FEMA and CDBG-DR eligibility requirements.
There are also multiple other entities and programs—FEMA Individual Assistance and Hard Mitigation, for instance—that can be used to pay for recovery activities like elevation, demolition, buyouts, rental assistance, and mortgage assistance. Rather than overcomplicating the recovery framework, this approach ensures that CBDG-DR funds are used in the best way possible.
For devastated communities, the waiting period for fund allocation and utilization can feel like an eternity. That means it’s especially important for recovery teams to maintain a strong line of communication with the public. The speed, style, and clarity of public messaging can make the difference between a recovery effort that helps set realistic expectations and one that earns derision and distrust. That means it’s important to a) control expectations set by politicians and public figures and b) help citizens understand the pros and cons of different sources of money that may be available at different points in time. It’s also important to develop a strong internal understanding of which populations will and won’t receive support at certain points in time.
Underestimating Compliance Pitfalls
Compliance is a moving train. New processes and guidelines are always being developed, which means that grantee and sub-grantee staff don’t always understand all the Federal laws and regulations that apply to a particular disaster scenario. Furthermore, many sub-grantees have limited knowledge of cross-cutting Federal requirements such as Davis-Bacon, Section 3, Environmental Review, and the Uniform Relocation Act.
When it comes to securing these funds, “business as usual” procedures rarely apply. Attitudes like “this is how we’ve always done it” don’t just slow recovery—they can result in audit findings and potential repayments to HUD. To get in front of this kind of issue, train grantee and sub-grantee staff repeatedly and provide close monitoring until it is clear that Federal requirements are being met.
One thing is certain: in the disaster recovery landscape, change is constant.
Having a team that is prepared to work with and can move quickly — without running into a compliance issue — is paramount. Learn more about ICF’s Disaster Recovery services at https://www.icf.com/markets/government/natural-disaster-recovery.