Civix Experts Advise States to Get Ahead of Disaster Recovery Allocations

It Pays to be Ahead of the Game

NEW ORLEANS, LA – Tornadoes in Tennessee, mudslides in Oregon, wildfires in California, winter storms in Texas, hurricanes across the Gulf South… Dozens of federal disasters have been declared over the past year, and billions of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds are likely to be made available through a Congressional appropriations bill. The Civix grants management team responsible for helping states recover from some of the largest disasters in recent history is now advising states on how to prepare for the federal funds headed their way. They say taking these early steps will ensure states can access and quickly deploy these critical resources.

Once HUD publishes the Federal Register notice, states typically have up to 120 days to submit an action plan, including 30 days of public comment, as well as Financial Certifications and an Implementation Plan.  Many of the required steps are sequential and interrelated, so it’s best to start working on them as soon as possible, says Civix Director Adrienne Duncan, who has led multiple action plan development processes, some of which were completed in just a few weeks.

“You don’t have to wait for the Federal Register notice,” she says. “It actually pays to be ahead of the game.”

Duncan is leading Civix’s support to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which includes operational and administrative implementation, for a more than $1 billion CDBG-DR allocation, HUD’s first-ever for wildfires.

“We’ve put together numerous certification and implementation plans for clients across the country, and we know that process like the back of our hand,” she said. “Even though there’s a checklist, it’s important for states to look beyond the requirements. And it’s especially critical to think through how you’re going to deliver on the commitments you make in the plan.”

To create action plans, states must assess unmet recovery needs and formulate their programs. The processes are integrated and must be quickly and carefully orchestrated.

Civix Director Nathan Cataline leads a team of planning professionals who leverage data analysis and mapping capabilities to help states do just that.

“This is a huge undertaking, especially for already stretched agencies to get done within an extremely tight timeframe without margin for error,” said Cataline. “We draw on our resources and experience to look at FEMA, SBA, and other quality data sources to provide states, and ultimately HUD, with a clear picture of the unmet needs.”

Program design is where states come up with the approach to meet those needs. The key, according to Civix Director Whitney Roche, is to design the programs that are compliant but also provide speed and flexibility.

“We’re really thoughtful about how best to leverage DR funds to help people in need,” he said. “Whenever possible, states should look to fulfill needs that existed prior to the disaster and were made worse by the disaster. It’s not just about making people whole again. We aim for better than whole.”

He also stresses that policies should be created to relieve the burden on the public, not add to . To that end, the Civix team utilizes a robust program design process, working with grantees to discuss programming options, address key policy decisions, and ensure outcomes meet the public’s need and are compliant with regulatory requirements.

He points to his recent work helping states deploy emergency rental assistance programs. His team proactively monitors operational data for potential applicant roadblocks, then leverages partnerships with the state and local agencies to fill in the gaps. “Complex systems are often necessary to meet federal requirements, but creativity and experience allows you to streamline the process for applicants,” he said.

Roche also cautions states to carefully consider implementation when creating their action plans.

“All too often we see states stumble because there was a disconnect between action plans and implementation,” he said. “These types of missteps can slow recovery to a halt and even put funds in jeopardy. This is just another reason why states should use this time before the Federal Register Notice to prepare.”

Ultimately, DR funds will never come fast enough. Anything states can do to access them quickly and speed recovery is essential.

For more information, contact Ted Guillot at [email protected].